This week I read two articles that touch on two different concepts; however, both articles offer guidance on how to trim and focus my work in progress.
In the March issue of The Writer, author Terry Bain* discusses a step by step approach to finding the theme in your story. He mirrors my past (green writer) inclinations, when he says he thought his stories were finished and ready for publication, because they sounded good. For me, I always thought a story that flowed well and told a good tale was good enough. But, like Terry Bain, no one was falling over anyone else to publish my early works.
Terry Bain suggests, maybe those stories were missing a central focus, a theme. He says a writer can start a story with a theme in mind, but the writer may do better to let the story unfold and discover the theme later.
I’m a writer; I know about theme. But, it is a piece of the puzzle I tend to ignore. Typically, theme isn’t the spark that ignites my stories (except if I’m writing on Wednesdays), but it is one concept I should hold onto right now as I rework my novel.
Theme is not to be confused with plot, which moves a story forward. Terry Bain says, theme can “shine [a] flashlight on some aspect of life.” A theme doesn’t give the reader answers to world-wide problems, but it does provide another way for the reader to connect with the story.
He also says, “…knowing your theme…helps you make key decisions about what to keep and what not to keep,” and he offers some questions and suggestions to help an author clarify the theme and refine the story:
- “Do the characters’ actions imply any universal truths?”
- “What made you write this story in the first place?”
- “Watch for repeated words or images. Or words and passages that strike you as particularly poignant.”
- “Try to simplify your ideas into a few simple words.”
His last suggestion leads me straight into the next great article I read this week on The Sharp Angle.
Lydia Sharp wrote a post on Irony that complements much of what I read from Terry Bain. Lydia Sharp, however, suggests finding focus in your story via a one sentence pitch, a sentence that incorporates irony.
“[I]rony,” she says, “is a writer’s best friend.” If a well-crafted sentence contains irony, the writer can reveal the complete story and hook the reader at the same time. And, that well-crafted sentence becomes crucial when the author approaches an agent.
“The irony shows the potential for an engaging story, no matter what the story is about. Without that clear potential, good luck finding someone to take an interest in your work, let alone represent it or publish it.”
I’m not ready to pitch my story. But, I want this rewrite to move along with a little more ease. Theme and Irony might be two key concepts to keep in my mind’s forefront.
If you haven’t read Terry Bain’s article, pick it up. And, if you haven’t seen Lydia Sharp’s post, click on over. I’d love to know your thoughts and hear about your experiences. Do you start your stories with a theme and a one-sentence pitch? Or do you write the story first, then flesh out the point?
* Bain, Terry. “Theme is What Unifies Your Story.” The Writer. Mar. 2010: 21-23, 55 . Print.