by Mahala Church
Last month we looked at creativity and craft. I hope you had a chance to consider the themes of the three books I mentioned. Remember, a theme in creative writing is defined as the idea, moral or value the story explores. Theme (cause and effect) must underscore all stories to give them purpose.
- Let’s start with Charles Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol. Did you get them all? Themes that support this famous story include:
Selfishness Loneliness Loss Forgiveness. Amazon lists the message (theme) of the story as love and goodwill, mercy and self-redemption.
- How did you do with Harper Lee’s book, To Kill A Mockingbird? Some of mine are obvious. Some required more thought. What do you think?
Race, Justice, Judgement, Morality, Coming of Age, Ethics, Fear, Women and Femininity, Family, Compassion, Friendship
- Finally, Suzanne Collins’ very popular first book of the trilogy, Hunger Games was evaluated.
Power, Versions of Reality, Identity, Society and Class, Love, Strength and Skill, Appearances, Politics, Competition, and Sacrifice. This list came from www.shmoop.com. I would add coming of age, family, women and femininity, and loss of innocence to it.
Are you surprised to see the number of themes that can appear in a small book? Notice that some of these are the clear foundation of the story, yet, without the other themes, how would the story be developed? It would be like a car without all four tires. You need cause and effect (themes) to move the story forward, just as you need four tires to move your car forward. This leads us to a brief discussion of April’s topic.
There are stories and there are plots.
Creative writing is a vehicle to transport information, but not just the “facts ma’am.” It is also the vehicle, which transmits what’s beneath the information, i.e. emotion. The thrust of writing with creativity is to incorporate the characters’ feelings, emotions, and thoughts about the events in the story. What Hannibal Lector feels about murder bears no resemblance to what Atticus Finch feels when Tom Robinson is killed.
Stories: A series of events in chronological order. Journalistic style.
Little Red Riding Hood, age eight, walked through the woods and down the path to take cookies to her grandmother. Arriving at her grandmother’s house, she found a wolf. A woodsman saved LRR and her grandmother.
Plots: A series of events deliberately arranged to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. Universal appeal is a MUST.
Little Red Riding Hood and her mother baked chocolate chip cookies on LRRH’s eighth birthday. LRRH walked through the green woods and down the sunny path to take some warm cookies to her grandmother, who was sick in bed. When she arrived at her grandmother’s cozy cottage, there was a big, bad wolf dressed in her grandmother’s cap and gown and lying in her bed. “What have you done with my grandmother?” The wolf chased LRRH around the house, and she screamed very loud for help. A strong woodsman walking past the house killed the wolf and saved LRRH. They found her grandmother locked in the closet. LRRH, the friendly woodsman, and the sweet grandmother had tea and cookies, and the woodsman walked LRRH safely home.
In what genre do you write? Knowing our genre helps us to write for a targeted audience.
Romance – the woodsman and LRRH’s widowed mother fall in love after a stormy courtship.
Mystery – who was the wolf and why did he go after LRRH’s grandmother? Was she rich? Her son by a previous marriage?
Mystery/Thriller – was the wolf responsible for all the recent serial killings or a copywolf? Is the killer still out there? Another grandmother murder and the game is afoot.
Sci-Fi – the wolf is lime green with purple eyes. Where did he come from? Has the world been invaded by aliens? Need to find his vehicle. Send him for blood and tissue analysis. Are there packs of aliens living in the woods?
Fantasy – the wolf is a changeling. The sheriff in the little town of Utopia is a cross-dressing wolf who is trying to take over Utopia. His eyes shoot lasers and he rides in a Jetsonmobile. The grandmother wears Prada and her bed linens are Yves Delorme imported from a distant planet – Frenchtopia. The cookies have red chips. LRRH becomes Little Purple Hoodie and wears Birkenstocks.
Obviously, I could keep going. There are over 300 genres now, so while it’s important, the lines have progressively blurred. But for those trying to sell our first novel, sticking to a well-recognized genre and following the conventions of that genre, makes sense.
8 Elements for a Story Worth Reading
- Open by introducing your protagonist and the place and time (grounding)
- Convince the reader to turn the page with an enticing hook
- Define what your protagonist wants to achieve
- Identify the inciting incident (dramatic vehicle) that changes the protagonist’s life
- Tell the reader everything that keeps the protagonist from success
- What happens (the climax) to bring the protagonist success or failure
- How is the protagonist changed from everything that has happened?
- Close the plot
Each of these topics is a chapter in most books about the art of writing. Here are a few of my favorites.
Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
Creating Fiction edited by Julie Checkoway
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias
Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway (a standard on most college campuses)
Tip: Write every day if it’s only the grocery list. Make it a list that will knock off the socks of your husband/wife/partner who will be shopping. Have fun with it. Here are a few ideas and let me know what you come up with. Pull out all the adjective stops on this one!
- Emerald green spinach paired with peppery arugula
- Plump chicken with large round breasts or robust thighs
- Devil’s cake covered in sinful dark chocolate ganache
Next month: Tools to help with writing.
Mahala Church is a freelance editor and writer for Written Word, her company that focuses on authors and other small business types who clamor to stay ahead of the pack. She pens weekly blog posts for a diversity of clients, including herself, and reaches out to writers through Barefoot Writing Academy, a division of Written Word, leading workshops, teaching classes, and providing individual mentoring. A published author of short stories, non-fiction, and book reviews, she lives in the crazy world of rescued dogs, kids, and turtles, one of whom prefers strawberries with his grits.