Determining Theme in Novel Writing

Do you know your story’s theme before you begin writing? Many writing coaches will advise you to figure this out ahead of time and work symbolism into your story as you write. But what if you don’t have a clue as to what your theme should be? Sometimes the theme only becomes evident later, after you’ve completed the book. At that stage, a wise observer might point out that you’ve naturally incorporated symbolism into your story.

The point is not to worry about this analytical part of writing if you’d rather write your book in the heat of the moment.

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I’ve never set out to craft a story knowing my theme ahead of time. I’ll write a synopsis in my initial stage and do some character development, but heavy analysis would stop me dead. I need to let the story unravel, even though I know where it’s going. Thematic elements are there. I might not have recognized them yet.

Ask yourself this question after you’ve penned a few novels: What are your stories about? What is the core message that comes across? I’ve realized many of my works are about redemption. My heroine sleuth, Marla Shore, seeks to redeem herself for a past mistake. The first Bad Hair Day mystery, Permed to Death, reveals her sense of guilt and what she’s done to assuage it. Guilt is a great motivator. The theme of redemption is also evident in some of my romances where characters seek to redeem their self-respect or reputations.

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But is that my only theme? Recently I’ve begun using the self-editing software mentioned below in a previous blog. I have been eliminating repetitive words within my manuscripts. One of my favored words is “just.” This word can also be found in “adjusted” and “justice.” Whoa. Justice?

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In Died Blonde, Marla goes to Cassadaga, FL and gets a reading from a certified medium. This spiritualist tells Marla the following:

The medium’s eyelids fluttered. “Right now, you’re obsessed with completing your task. You feel the need to pursue justice. Learning the truth will bring you peace.”

A chill captured Marla all the way to her toes. She’d pronounced similar words as part of her Bat Mitzvah speech: Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue. How could they form on Hazel’s lips?

“Treat yourself fairly as you would treat others,” the medium explained. “Accept who you are, and you’ll find the power within you to move forward. Above all, don’t give up. The truth is just around the horizon.”

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These words become Marla’s mantra throughout the series. She seeks truth and justice.

Warrior Lord, book 3 in my paranormal Drift Lords series, also deals with this theme. Lord Magnor has been unjustly accused of a crime. Ditto the hero, a wanted fugitive, in Silver Serenade. Is the pursuit of justice another one of my themes? I believe so, and it’s one I’ve only now realized.

One of my favorite book series is Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth fantasy series. Why? Because Richard Rahl, the protagonist, is the Seeker of Truth. Richard seeks the truth in all matters, as does his love Kahlan, the Mother Confessor. Once under her spell, no one can lie. If you’re not into the books, check out the TV series Legend of the Seeker for swashbuckling adventure, fantasy, and romance.

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I didn’t set out to write about this theme, but there it is. So, too, might your theme reveal itself in your body of work.

Do you determine your theme ahead of time? What is your core message?

 

 

This Week’s Events

Join me online today at Happily Ever After Thoughts where I discuss creating Larger than Life Heroes, and leave a comment for a chance to win an ebook copy of Circle of Light, book one in my paranormal/futuristic Light-Years Trilogy.

And this week in person….

June 27, Thursday, 1:00 – 2:30 pm, Creative Writers Club, South Regional/Broward College Library, 7300 Pines Blvd, Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.  954-201-8825.

June 29, Saturday, 10:00 – 12:00 noon, “How to Get Published the Traditional Way” with Nancy J. Cohen, Florida Authors Academy, Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL  33444, 561-279-7790, Fee for class; Advance Reservations required.

Make Your Characters Stronger

How can you make your characters sound stronger when they speak? Think of the ways authoritative people talk in terms of their word choices and tone of voice.

Choose one of each:

1.A. “I think we should hit the beach at dawn. That way, we’ll probably be able to avoid the patrol boats.”

B. “We’ll hit the beach at dawn so we can avoid the patrol boats.”

2.A. “It is my belief that it would be best if we took the right-hand path.”

B. “Let’s make a right-hand turn.”

3.A. “I suppose I could agree.”

B. “I agree.”

4.A. “Oh, dear, perhaps this yellow dress would be more suitable. It brings out the highlights in my hair, and I do want Butler to notice me.”

B. “The yellow dress complements my hair, so I’ll wear that one. Butler has to notice me tonight.”

5.A. “I guess it would be all right if you borrowed my bracelet, but if you don’t mind, please see if you can return it tomorrow.”

B. “You can borrow the bracelet, but I’d like it returned tomorrow.”

If you chose any “A” answers, you’re making your character sound weak. To strengthen your heroine, have her sound positive and determined. Characters should focus on their goals, not on their appearance or performance. Avoid phrases such as I think, I guess, I suppose, dear me, maybe we should, It is my belief that, I don’t know.

Of course, exceptions to the rule do exist. Just make certain your character doesn’t sound wimpy when he speaks or has an introspection. Cutting extra verbiage can help. Aim for precision of speech, but avoid curtness. Remember that dialog should further your plot or reveal character. Phrases that reveal hesitation or self-doubt may indicate places that need revision unless you purposefully want your character to act this way.

Strong heroes appeal to readers, so take out your pen and get to work. Good luck!

Character Names

clip_image002How does a writer devise a name for a character? First, we can’t choose a name similar to the other main characters or you’ll run into people named Maria, Marilyn, and Merle. It gets confusing for the reader. So that eliminates certain sounds and letters. The character’s ethnic heritage or her role in the story may influence your choice. For example, I can’t proceed with plotting my next romance without obtaining a name for my heroine, but so far, nothing has struck my fancy. The story is based on Norse mythology so that gives me a place to start. I looked in The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, an excellent resource that lists names by nationality and gives their meanings. Then I drew up a list of Norwegian female names that caught my interest. I narrowed these down to selections with a certain sound I wanted.

To visualize my characters, I cut out pix from magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. So here is my heroine. She’s the perfect counterpart to my serious, brooding hero, Lord Magnor.

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My female name choices:

Dagny (joy of the Danes)

Kelci (from the ship’s island) Kelsey

Mildri (mild and lovely)

Randi (lovely, goddess) Ragnfrid, Ragni

Brief character sketch: Heroine sculpts mythical figures of trolls and fairies out of natural materials and sells them online. Owns a pottery studio, wants to open a gift shop, and maybe teach children arts and crafts.

Other Women in the series: Nira, Jennifer, Lianne, Algie

Men: Zohar, Paz, Magnor, Dal, Kaj, Yaron

If I name her Dagny, I can’t call her Dag for short because one of the established heroes is Dal. So I have to keep in mind these other people when I choose her name. Mildri is cute but maybe too mild for her. Kelsey is too ordinary, although Kelci is a different spelling that might work. Ragni? Call her Rage for short? Hey, that might do. She looks kinda angry at the world, doesn’t she? I can’t nickname her Rag with a soft “g” because it would sound too much like Kaj.

What do you think? Who does she look like to you? Any other suggestions? What means do you, the writer, use to determine your character names?

Archetypes

Archetypes are recurrent themes in literature and films. You can use these tropes to inspire your characters when writing a novel.

AMNESIA: Is he/she married, a parent, a missing bride/groom, presumed dead? Did she kill someone? Did someone try to kill her? Is she a witness to a violent crime? Is he an undercover agent who got hurt by the bad guys? American Dreamer, The Bourne Identity

BRIDES: marriage of convenience, fake fiancé, mail order bride, virgin bride, runaway brides/grooms, green-card, royal, shot gun, jilted, terms of the will, mismatch. Runaway Bride, Father of the Bride, Wedding Crashers, Sleepless in Seattle

CHILDREN: abandoned, lost, adopted, biological, inherited, stolen, secret baby, true identity unknown, switched-at-birth, kids playing matchmaker for single parents.

DISGUISE: secret identity, switching places: True Lies, The Prince and the Pauper, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Freaky Friday

FISH OUT OF WATER: Enchanted, City Slickers

MAKEOVER: The Ugly Duckling, The Princess Diaries, My Fair Lady

MISMATCHED COUPLES: Bad boy/Good girl, Cowboy/Lady, Pirate/Princess, Wanderer/Homemaker, May/December, Duke/Governess, mentor/protegé, opposing occupations, boss/employee. Romeo & Juliet, Beauty and the Beast, Six Days Seven Nights.

RAGS TO RICHES: Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Ever After

REUNION: former lovers, estranged spouses, lost love, thwarted romance, divorced but still in love. Sweet Home Alabama.

SINGLE PARENTS: struggling unwed mothers, clueless divorced dads, inexperienced surrogate. Three Men and a Baby, Baby Boom

TWINS: switched identities, mistaken identities, trading places to fool people and having the tables turned on them instead. Parent Trap, New York Minute

Think about the books on your shelves at home. Do you tend to repeatedly buy the same types of stories? Does this tell you something about the plot devices that appeal to you?

Try picking out a couple of your favorite archetypes and mix them to create a new story.

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