Theme 101: Four Questions You Must Ask Yourself To Create a Meaningful Theme

Write what you know.

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice that’s given to beginning writers. And depending on what type of story you want to write, it may be a bit annoying. After all, if you’re writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, being told to write what you know may not seem extremely helpful in that regard.

However, regardless of genre, this phrase rings true because I believe it’s primary value is not about story setting, but about your story’s theme. You can only write powerful themes when you’ve thought a lot about that moral topic or issue, and preferably when you’ve had to wrestle with it yourself. To write about a theme, you need to understand that theme first. And that’s what this lesson is all about: how to study a theme effectively.

Watch our latest lesson at http://kingdompen.org/theme-101-video-3/

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Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

Theme 101: The #1 Reason Themes Can Become Super Preachy (And How to Avoid This)

What makes a novel unbearably preachy?

We’ve all read that Christian novel or seen that Christian movie that’s just trying to hit the reader or viewer over the head with the Gospel. You know–the one where all the atheists convert, all the Christian characters are perfect, Scripture verses are everywhere, and the author is very clearly trying to force the unbelieving reader to convert. It’s the type of stories that make some of us cringe when we hear the words ‘Christian fiction.’

Christian stories can fail for a variety of reasons, but often, I think they boil down to one basic problem: namely, the story’s theme isn’t bigger than the story’s message. This is the #1 reason that themes can become unbearably preachy, and it’s essential before writing a story that you make sure your theme is big enough to hold up an entire story.

Watch the Full Lesson at: http://kingdompen.org/theme-101-video-2/

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

Theme 101: How Advice from a Two-Millennia-Old-Poet Can Revolutionize Your Writing

Why do we write stories?

I don’t mean what personally drives you as a writer, though that’s certainly important. I mean, what’s the point of storytelling? Why do human beings naturally tell stories to each other? Why are we so fascinated by them? And is there any point to stories, or are they just supposed to be an enjoyable way to spend our time?

If you want to be a skilled and successful author, you need to understand what the point of storytelling is. Not only that, but as Christian authors, we need to understand what it means to write stories from a Christian perspective as well. What does it mean to write stories that honor God? These are really big questions… and you may be surprised to know that one of the best answers to these questions comes from a pagan poet who lived two millennia ago.

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

A New Focus for 2017

As we beckon in 2017, we prepare ourselves for tragic misadventures that all start with last-minute New Year’s resolutions:

“I’m going to write ten novels in 2017!”a_new_focus_for_2017

“I’m going to write the next [insert favorite work of literature here]!”

“I’m going to stop overusing parentheses (because it gets annoying when you basically could have started a new sentence)!”

It is hard to fulfill New Year’s resolutions (I am my own case in point). Perhaps the main reason we have so many tragic misadventures each year is because we have not yet developed the skills and habits needed to accomplish our resolutions. The good news is that all of us at Kingdom Pen are gearing up to give you the skills and habits you need to achieve your writing-related goals (except maybe the one about parentheses—you’re on your own there, unless you wish to plead for help on the forum).

Where to Get the Skills

Each month we try to center our articles, short stories, and poetry around a Monthly Topic (formally known as Monthly Themes). Since many of you will be interested in writing something to fit those topics, we are making the list for 2017 available for your viewing and planning pleasure here. Challenging yourself by focusing your writing on a certain topic can help you become a better writer. Just ask Josiah DeGraaf, author of “Why Everything in Your Story Must Tie into Your Theme.”

In addition to our Monthly Topics, we are going to concentrate heavily on understanding theme, which is an important topic or idea that the moral aspect of a story addresses. Are you confused? Let’s unpack this a bit.

An Important Topic or Idea

I believe a story should revolve around a single topic or idea (and I think a few notable authors would back me up). Even Charles Dickens’s 135,420-word masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities, has a core theme: resurrection and transformation. Even with all of the wonderful characters and plot twists, ideas and sub-themes, Dickens ties everything together through a central theme and creates a powerful story that leaves an impression on readers.

Notice that the theme is simple. It is not even a full sentence. It is meant to be abstract because everything in the story flows into or out from it. Theme is a subject on which you have an opinion, and your story is your opinion playing out in someone else’s life.

The Moral Aspect

According to John Truby, author of The Anatomy of Story, “Theme may be the most misunderstood of all major aspects of storytelling… Theme is the author’s view of how to act in the world. It is your moral vision.” Say your theme is love. We all know there are right and wrong ways to love and even an opposite of love (hate). But what is the “right” way to love someone? Hopefully that is what your story will dive into. Your characters will likely face moral choices that all pivot on the central theme of love. You will give different characters opposing views on how to love and that will put them at odds with one another, causing tension. Meanwhile, you, the writer, will be displaying a number of ways to love, and in the end it will be clear which one is “right.”

As Christians, the Scriptures inform our moral vision. The only way you will see the world correctly is through the lens of the gospel and God’s Word made flesh (Jesus alive in you). Thus, it is imperative that we ground ourselves in THE Word before we attempt to tell others how to live.

Story

If you are like me, you long to share what you know and care about with others. For writers, this often takes the form of a story. We write to express who we are and what we believe, but we don’t want to shove our views down people’s throats. So we decide to compose a story. Unsure where to start, we look to the great allegories of our childhood like The Chronicles of Narnia. But soon we realize that storytelling is more than making up fanciful creatures and recreating our own version Narnia.

Everything we write should have a heavy focus on theme because it is the heart of storytelling. Without it, a story can feel disjointed, preachy, or even meaningless. It is impossible to sum up the importance and complexities of using theme in storytelling in one article. Thus, we are going to concentrate our efforts on increasing your Mastery of Theme throughout 2017. Watch out for more articles on theme to be published here in the upcoming year.

Teaser News: A Writing Course is Coming!

In closing, I have the pleasure of heralding the following news: we will be releasing our first ever Kingdom Pen writing course this summer. It will be a chance for you to advance your writing to a new level as we guide you deeper into Theme Mastery. That’s all I can reveal for now, but I will also give you this hot tip (because no one said I couldn’t): a limited beta release of the course will probably be announced on the forum, so be sure to check there often in the coming weeks.

Remember, your best hope for completing your New Year’s resolutions is acquiring more writing skills and habits. So be sure to habitually visit us at Kingdom Pen so we can help you become more resolute!

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Michael Stanton has had what he describes as a scatterbrained adventure of a life that has recently led him to working at Kingdom Pen. When he wasn’t teaching underprivileged children in Uganda and rafting on the White Nile, he was either in Canada’s capital city studying the history of Christianity or in Michigan learning how to make films. Originally from Banner Elk, North Carolina, Michael grew up homeschooled and surrounded by the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. Those mountains inspired Michael’s love of writing (and, let’s face it, the Lord of the Ringsmovies also helped). Many years and adventures later, Michael found himself getting a marketing degree, and low and behold, Kingdom Pen was in need of a Marketing Director. What are the odds that God didn’t see that coming? All divine providence allusions aside, Michael is super excited to get to work in an organization that so closely matches his desires to see more quality content streaming from the minds and hearts of his fellow Christians.