I really liked how Linda Seger approached theme. Theme is basically the expression of the big idea of the story, and Linda suggests writers use action or movement verbs to define the theme, such as “exposing” or “discovering.” This practice implies that theme has movement from one state to another. In fact, Linda sees theme as two states in contrast to one another. For example, my new novel, The Yo-Yo Prophet, has a theme of chaos versus control, as my protagonist seeks control over the chaos of his life.
Linda Seger suggests that one way to express theme is through images and image systems. Of course, images can work to visually express a theme. To use my new novel as an example again, when my protagonist seeks to master his yo-yo tricks in front of an audience, he’s actually seeking control over others. (So the yo-yo becomes an image for the theme, and the failure of a yo-yo trick takes on greater significance.) If the image travels through the story in various ways and forms (becoming an image system), it can take on additional meaning.
I’ve examined story structure from the point of view of Syd Field, Robert McKee, John Truby, and Michael Hauge, among others, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that one needs to take the best from each method and find one’s own way. Maybe that’s not much help, but let me try to explain.
Although these story structure experts share many beliefs in common, they also disagree with and contradict one another. For example, Truby states that there is no such thing as a three-act structure, while the others base their methods on it. Absorbing the methods of these story structure experts has led me to the conclusion that there are many ways to approach story structure, and I need to consider my particular story and writing style to determine my way through the maze.
These days, I ask myself a series of questions about a story idea. These questions are based on a conglomeration of their ideas and my own, and they’re continually evolving. I find that once I answer these questions, I have a strong grasp of what I’m about to write and why. I find that it’s an invaluable process.
I’m becoming fond of Truby’s technique of creating a character web to develop my characters. Truby suggests writers consider how characters in a story are interconnected – how they define each other – by comparing the weaknesses, need, desire, value, status, and moral argument of each character. It’s particularly useful to consider each character in relation to the protagonist’s main moral dilemma.
I attended the workshop with fellow kidlit writers Erin Thomas, Lena Coakley, Cheryl Rainfield, Jennifer Gordon, and Urve Tamberg. To read more about the conference, check out these writers’ blog posts: