Every story has a theme even if the author never sets it there on purpose. The theme is an underlying or overarching message that might not be discerned until the story ends. A theme connects to the story's topic. It's what you want readers to understand about life after they've finished your book.
Often, the theme is the same as what the hero or protagonist discovers. In the Pulitzer novel, THE GOLDFINCH, Theo learns that you cannot hold onto what you love or you might destroy it. In other words, love means letting go.
Sometimes, it's too big, In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the theme centers around the fragility of innocence. Perhaps Harper Lee was saying that to be innocent meant risking your life.
On occasion, the narrator tells us the theme (or hints strongly), so we can participate in its development during the story. In Edgar Alan Poe's THE TELL-TALE HEART, the main character serves as the narrator and lets the reader know immediately that he's going crazy. We learn with him that even the mad can feel guilt. Guilt has no boundaries.
If you are in the middle of writing a story, or you are planning one, consider the message you want readers to take away.
Here are some common themes:
Beauty is only skin deep.
Believe in yourself.
Believing strongly in something is vital to its fruition.
Change is inevitable.
Good and evil can coexist.
Blood is thicker than water.
Love always wins.
Rules protect us.
Face your fears, and you will be stronger.
Truth can set us free.
Other themes can be found in old proverbs, the Bible, Torah, Koran, Baghavad Gita, or other religious works, Shakespeare, poetry, your mother's words, a prisoner's regrets. In short, a theme is a message, and we all have at least one we live by.
What is close to your heart? What messages will you leave with your readers?
Share your thoughts here.
I dare not say these words out loud, but... shhh... come closer, and I'll whisper them to you.
I think my story is finished.
Don't tell anyone. Not yet. First, I need to make sure I've satisfied the questions with which the story began.
I have worked on my young adult contemporary manuscript for more than a year. I'm not talking the writing part. The writing began in 2013. I'm talking editing and revising. A year. To be precise, fifteen months.
ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY has seen changes in characters, point of view, and plot. It is an entirely different story than the one I began three years ago. It is also an entirely better story.
First, let me tell you why it's better then I'll show you how I know it's finished.
One. I have addressed every concern an agent or editor brought to my attention during contests and querying.
Two. I have examined and corrected every detail my amazing critique partners raised a red flag to.
Three. I like it. It's a story. The characters are authentic. The MC is fallible.
Now let me show you how I know it's finished using the following five questions.
One. Is the main plot resolved?
I don't want to promise a premise that doesn't pan out. Readers need resolution to the protagonist's problem. Resolution does not necessarily mean a happy or satisfying ending. It just needs to be plausible.
Two. Did the protagonist solve it (YA needs this)?
In YA, the protagonist needs to be the one to solve her problem. Adolescents seek empowerment; adults screw with their destinies enough in the real world.
Three. Has the character grown or changed from the opening scene?
Consider Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey narrative. When the reader meets the MC, there must be something the reader asks or observes, something he expects to change.
Four. Have all the minor plots resolved?
Your A story and B story and all minor journeys that arose along the way must each come to a close.
Five. Have all the "teasers" been dealt with or resolved?
In Act I, you've no doubt introduced red herrings or secondary characters with their own story. These all need closure. If Mom has been looking for a job throughout the story, and you keep referring to it, she either needs to land one or make a comment about going back to school. Something. Don't leave teasers teasing (unless you're writing a sequel... but that's another story...).
If you think you're story is over, answer the five questions. What other questions do you think writers need to ask?
Share with us here.
Let's start May with a writing contest!
What do you know about beginnings and endings? A great story might begin with a brilliant thought, random line, or quirky character, but at some point you'll need to get organized. In the meantime, just write. Regurgitate those ideas swimming about your head. Splatter every thought on the page. When you're ready, when the well's dry, step back and begin that plan. Mold the pieces together into a beautiful tale.
Writing challenges are a great way to practice your writing skills. This week, we take an opening and closing and craft a short tale. Call it flash fiction, mini tale, bitesize story, or whatever.
Below, you'll find three beginnings and three endings. You mix and match. Fill in the middle with a compelling story (as compelling as a few hundred words can be). Have fun!
Rules: choose one beginning and one ending, fill in the rest; keep it to 300 words or less.
1. (Landscape) The summer sun faded and night set in...
2. (Dialogue) "Stop it, Josh! You never listen."
3. (Meet the hero/heroine) She never loved winter, but it was different now since the events of the past summer.
1. "I know. It's not really what I expected at all, but I sure am glad you're here."
2. A single apple tree stood on the burnt hillside.
3. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and walked out the door.
Open to all ages!
This site is filled with many ideas. Feel free to search through my Blog for tips. Try these ones about sensory writing.
You have until May 15 to submit your entry. Paste it in the comments below or add a link with the entry on your own site.
The winner will be featured on this site and receive acclaim on Twitter and Facebook.
Starting a story is easy, you've got an idea, and you start to tell it. In the middle, you begin to have some real fun, unveiling new characters, butting up against obstacles, adding twists and turns to your character's journey. Then comes time to finish.
Sccrrrcchhh! Hit the brakes, Alice, we're coming in for a landing.
The end is where the trouble begins.
For the last two weeks, I've been at the end of my current manuscript. I've two chapters and one half to go. I've written less than five hundred words in the last seven days.
Part of me is stalling - How should it end? What will the readers expect? Shall I surprise them?
My daughter recently read (struggled through?) Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It wasn't until the very last line that she shouted with glee, "I get it! I get it!" You don't want your reader to struggle to the end.
Which brings me to the other 'part of me', the writer who's struggling, who doesn't want it all to end. After all, the main character (MC) and I have been head buddies for months. I'm gonna miss him when he goes. I know, I know, it's time to end it all.
In Blake Snyder's book on the writing craft, Save the Cat, he suggests that the final image match the opening image - as an opposite. If you opened with your MC in a pile of garbage after his girlfriend threw out him and the trash, your final image should showcase him clean and engaging in a scene that reflects he's learned his lesson. Nice and tidy, that's how Blake liked his scripts.
But life isn't a script, so you'll need to uncover other ways to end your story. Blake's is good and plausible, but readers enjoy variety. You don't want every book to end 'happily ever after'.
Here are other ways to close out your MC's tale.
1. Surprise! Life is full of surprises. You scrimp and save for college, study hard, receive several acceptance letters then your grandfather dies and you need to take over the family business. It puts a twist in your original plans, but it might work out for the better. You may save the restaurant that old granddad had run into the ground. Try a surprise ending, but lay out a few breadcrumbs before you draw back the curtain.
2. End Sooner than Later. Readers sometimes appreciate knowing twenty pages before the book finishes exactly why Aunt Betty set fire to the family letters. Now you have several dozen pages to tie up loose ends and explain several of the confusions you carefully plotted along the way. Click here for ideas to create loose ends?
3. Goal! The most logical ending occurs when your MC has solved his initial problem. If the conflict revolved around locating a missing child thought abducted by a crazy relative or the neighbor, once the child's been located, you can bring your story to a close. Catch the bad guy, and all is well.
or is it?
4. Gotcha! Taking #3 and twist it. The kid's home, but it wasn't either the neighbor or whacky Uncle Lew. The kid knows this, but he can only identify a few traits of his napper. This might take another thirty or more pages, or it might be the opening to a sequel.
Don't forget, once you've finished your story, it's time to revise. Let the fun begin again! (Besides, no matter how you end your fabulous story, someone will tell you how you should have ended it. Even if your Stephen King.)
What's your favorite story ending? What do you avoid at all costs? Share your thoughts with us.