Monthly Archives: February 2014

Interweaving Your Novel’s Themes And Subthemes

Interweaving Your Novel’s Themes And Subthemes

Here is part VI of the 8-Part BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE Series by Holly Lisle. Enjoy!

Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

 

Interweaving Your Novel’s Themes And Subthemes
by Holly Lisle

When you’re writing a book, you want every page to drag the reader to the next one, even if she’s late for work, even if it’s two o’clock in the morning and he needs to be up at six, even if the plane has landed and your weary traveller really must get bags in hand and get off the plane. You want what you’re writing to be compelling. Enthralling. Un-put-down-able.

And that’s where the themes and subthemes we’ve been working on come together.

First we’ll put together an example where our main theme of rage against misused power, by now well disguised, becomes the story of a heroine who has been wrongfully accused of murder and must prove her innocence. We’ll have a subtheme of unhappy divorce, wherein the heroine’s two children are being told by her ex what a horrible person she is.

We could do an enormous number of things with these two storylines, and I know dozens of ways to meld themes and subthemes together and use them to play off of each other, but I’ll give you my three favorite techniques here.

THE BLENDED SCENE

Start with the heroine discovering the body of a stranger in her basement. Since she and her husband split up, there hasn’t been anyone down there but her and the two kids, who are five and eight years old. She carries a load of laundry down the stairs, trips over the the body, scatters laundry everywhere, and goes racing up the steps to call the police, just as her ex arrives to pick up the kids for the weekend. She’s frantic, her husband first thinks she’s joking, then thinks she’s hysterical, and finally goes into the basement and comes out as she’s calling the cops. He’s not sympathetic—he wonders what’s going on in that house since he left, what sort of atmosphere she’s raising his kids in, and when the cops arrive, he gives a statement, then hustles the kids out of there fast, wondering aloud if she’s had men in the place while his children were there.

• Locate the characters—other than the main character—who are involved in the theme and those involved in the subtheme. In this case, those characters are the police (theme), and the ex-husband and kids (subtheme).

• Decide how to create ties between theme and subtheme–in this case, the husband ties the police into his vision of his ex-wife as a bad mother by suggesting she’s been entertaining strangers in the house with his kids present. The police, meanwhile, will tie the husband into the story as another suspect.

• Get elements of both theme and subtheme into one scene.

THE INTERCUT

Now we’re going to play with time and space. We’ll write four alternating scenes, two from the point of view (POV) of our heroine, and two from the POV of her ex. In each scene, we’ll work either the theme or the subtheme, but not both.

First, we have the heroine being questioned at the kitchen table, denying any knowledge of the man in the basement or how he got there, honestly describing over and over how she found the body, and then we have a forensics guy telling the cop in the background that the man had a note in his pocket signed by someone with the same name as the woman, and they’re going to need pre-existing handwriting samples.

Next, to the father driving the kids home, who’s asking his kids who comes over to the house when they’re there with mommy, and the kids saying no one, and the father asking if mommy told them to say that.

Third, back to the heroine, who is asked to go to the police station, and who is seated in an interrogation room, where, as soon as she’s left alone, she gets up and starts pacing, trying to work through where the man could have gotten a note from her, who he might have been, how he ended up in her basement, why he was dead, and who was responsible for his death.

And back to the father, who gets the kids to admit that, once they’re in bed, they don’t know if anyone comes over, and yes, mommy does have music on sometimes, and maybe someone could have been there, and while they’re at school, they don’t know what she does. Except for laundry. They’re very firm that she does lots of laundry.

• With intercuts, you want to show facets of who each character is, and how they’re acting toward their own ends, whether those are good or bad.

• You have to create change, but you are only creating change toward the specific theme you’re working on (at least visibly). The police don’t ask the heroine about her ex, they don’t visibly pursue interest in the ex. They want to know about her. Meanwhile, the father doesn’t mention or worry about the police. His focus is on his kids, and on finding out what’s going on over at their mother’s house.

THE CLIFFHANGER

Finally, we’re going to bring both of these themes into play again, as we have a scene involving the forensics folks. They’ve found a picture of both kids and the mother in the dead man’s pocket, and the picture is signed on the back, “Love, Lisa” (the heroine’s name). The signature matches the one on the note that was in his pocket. It’s not proof she was involved with him, but it certainly doesn’t look good for her. They call the police out of the interrogation room and let them know what they’ve found. The police go back into the room and ask her why the dead man had a picture of her and her kids in his pocket, signed by her, and she panics and starts crying, and can’t—or won’t—answer the question.

And that’s where you leave that scene. The reader is forced to consider the possibility that the heroine might have been lying, that she might know the dead man, that she might even have killed him. The reader could also suspect the husband, who could have had possession of notes and pictures signed the way these have been. But if the scene closes with the heroine in deep trouble, panicked, and not talking, the reader will have a strong incentive to keep reading to find out what happens next.

• Use elements of both theme and subtheme in your cliffhanger (the mother and her connection to the dead man, and HIS possible connection to her and her kids)

• Leave either the most important character of the theme OR the subtheme in desperate straits (in this case, the main character of the theme is in trouble…you can save trouble for the ex in a later part of the story).

• Pick up the next scene with a character from one of your subthemes, and gradually work your way back to the character who was dangling over the cliff.
By carefully using blended scenes, intercuts, and cliffhangers, you can weave your theme and subthemes together in ways so exciting and compelling your reader will stay up late, miss his stop, be late for work. Cruel, yes, but it’s the sort of cruelty readers will thank you for.

Next time, in BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE, Part VII, Planning A Heart-Stopping Story, you’ll learn how to outline the bones of your story using theme and subthemes to keep things moving.
Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Article published At: www.Isnare.com

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

 

Dig Deeper With Your Novel’s Subthemes

 Here is part V of the terrific 8-Part BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE Series by Holly Lisle.
Hope you are enjoying it as much as I am.

Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

 

Dig Deeper With Your Novel’s Subthemes
by Holly Lisle

By now, you have a solid grasp of the importance of having a theme for your story, of keeping it personal and hidden (to avoid writing the dreaded Message Book), and of hanging on to the courage of your convictions in writing it the way you need to, knowing that you cannot ever please everyone, nor should you try.
That’s a good, solid foundation for writing a book that people will read, and then re-read, and then recommend to friends, and finally buy as presents for people they really like. Which is, after all, the writer’s ultimate goal—to write a story readers love so much they’ll share it with other people who will love it, too.
But you can still go deeper, and make the work richer and more compelling, by layering in subthemes.

[Brakes screech, and someone mutters, “Wait a minute. You finally sold me on themes. But SUBthemes? C’mon, already.”]

Subthemes are one of the best friends novelists have. (They’re far less useful for folks who write short stories, simply because subthemes add to the length and complexity of the story.)

Subthemes do three massively useful things for the writer crafting a novel—things a single theme alone cannot do.

1) They force the world of the story into three dimensions. If the book is focused on one theme—no matter how fascinating and wonderful that theme—and all the characters are focused on that one issue, and all the action revolves around that one issue, then, no matter how skilled the writer may be, the book will feel thin. Step beyond the borders of the main action, and no character has anything to do, or say, or think, or any reason to exist. Their lives are bordered by the main theme. By adding subthemes, you fill out your characters’ lives with needs and events that are important to them outside of and separate from the main story’s focus.

2) Subthemes add length and complexity. (I mentioned this above in the negative sense, but that which is the bane of the short story writer is in this case the boon of the novelist.) I receive the following question at least once a week from beginning and intermediate writers—“How do I make my story longer without padding it (and without trying to figure out more plot, because I’m out of ideas)?”

Subthemes by their very nature give you something extra to work into your plot—the unexpected pregnancy of the heroine adding complications while she is running for her life; the villain who in the midst of working mayhem discovers the mother he truly loves is dying; the harassment of the main character by the practical joker at work whose stupid jokes later become mixed up in the life or death issues already besieging the hero.

3) Subthemes allow you an extra opportunity to…um, for lack of a better word…vent. And get something good out of the bad things that have happened in your life. This is admittedly a strange side benefit, but just about every writer I know has SOME issue that repeatedly makes its way into his (or her) novels. The trick, always, is to keep YOUR issue out of the book, and make the issue really and truly related to the character, with different events and a different resolution.

So where do you find your subthemes?

1) Pick a subtheme that is distantly related to the issue driving your novel. If your theme is “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, and your story is about a father who comes to terms with the lingering death of his oldest kid after the boy contracts some terrible disease, a related theme would be how the father finds ways to bring happiness to the kid’s life (and his own) for whatever time they have left. Or how the kid makes a friend in the middle of his personal tragedy, or learns to do something he’s always wanted to do. Or how the father makes one thing his son has always wanted come true for him.(Man, this would be a grim book.)

2) Pick an unrelated issue, and give it, in disguised form, to primary or secondary characters. Using the example above, an unrelated issue that could become a theme would be how the father hangs on to a job when he’s both the sole provider (say the kid’s mother died, or just left) and his kid’s sole source of care and support; or how the kid sets out to win the science fair before he dies, and wins the respect of a teacher he previously hated.

3) Pick some train wreck in your personal life, THOROUGHLY disguise it, give it to people totally unlike the people who were involved in YOUR train wreck, change names, locales, and events… And then work though it the way you should have, or wish you could have, the first time. Using this method, the father could be going through your horrible divorce, but HE could find the good ending you didn’t get. Or he could give up his fantastic career as a professional poker player to be with his son, and could find something good from that loss, rather than the constant regret you have from a similar situation.

In every case, your priorities in using subthemes are to:

* give yourself more story than what you’d get if you only focused on your theme,
* give your reader something extra, and different, to take away from the book.

You and your story will benefit in more ways than you can imagine.
In BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE, Part VI, Interweaving Your Novel’s Themes And Subthemes, you’ll learn three of my favorite techniques for balancing themes and subthemes while writing your novel.

About the Author
Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Her next novel, THE RUBY KEY, (Orchard Books) will be on shelves May 1st. You can receive her free writing newsletter, Holly Lisle’s Writing Updates at http://hollylisle.com/newsletter.html

Published At: www.Isnare.com

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

The Most Inspiring Blog Post About Writing You’ll Ever Read

Today’s post is courtesy of Kate Krake’s blog: The Write Turn

I am hopeful that Kate Krake’s post might introduce you to some fine writing blogs that you may have missed, and that the links and musings about these stand-out (whether you agree with them or not) blog posts about the craft of writing, might encourage and inspire you to continue writing for just a little bit longer today…

Cheers!
Lauren Delaney
Love changes everything. tm

 

The Most Inspiring Blog Post About Writing You’ll Ever Read

by Kate Krake

As a writer who writes and a writer who writes about writing, I read a lot about writing.
Make sense? Writing blog posts, books, email newsletters, books, articles – anything I can get, I’ll read it. Sometimes I’m trawling for ideas for my own articles, other times I’m hungry for inspiration for my work or in need of advice on how to nut out a particular writing problem that’s causing me grief.

Sometimes I find the answer and am completely blown away with inspiration and the way forward is clear and simple. Sometimes it doesn’t work like that at all. Sometimes you’re just not in the right mood to be receptive to certain advice. Other times the advice might suck. Other times it could have something to do with the weather.

It’s that first group I want to focus on today. In this post, I’ve gathered up a selection of 5 of the most inspirational articles on writing I’ve ever found. Some are new, some are old but all of them in some way have given me pause and, I think, helped me become a better writer.

There’s a bit of a variation in these five. You’ll find advice for bloggers, advice for fiction writers, advice for publishing, advice on creativity, advice that just keeps your pen moving to the next word when you feel as though you can’t possible write anything else ever again and would rather give up on the whole game and go work in a grocery store. We’ve all been there.

Write Epic Shit

Corbett Barr. Think Traffic.
Write Epic Shit has become a manifesto for content writers, and can be applied to all kinds of writing and creating and generally everything you do.

The Lesson: Strive to create BIG and IMPORTANT things rather than churning out a bunch of mediocre stuff that’s no different to anything anyone else is doing. That’s the stuff that’s going to matter most to you, to your readers and that’s the stuff that’s going to get your writing noticed.

Expertise vs. Humility – A Writer’s Battle Royale?

Taylor Jacobson. Write to Done.
This post blipped onto my radar recently and after reading it, I couldn’t shake its ideas for a long time. It’s particularly relevant to bloggers and non-fiction writers, asking how do you strike the balance between writing with authority to give advice and help people, and resist coming across like an know it all tosser?

The Lesson: Write from the authority of your own experience and learning and show your own weaknesses and shortcomings.

Make More Art: Interview with Seth Godin

Seth Godin, interviewed by Joe Bunting. The Write Practice.
Seth Godin. That’s about all you need to know to understand that is is going to be a pretty inspiring post on how to get remarkable stuff done and noticed. I could have added just about anything written by Seth Godin to this list and had the same effect, but I went with this one as it’s specifically put together as advice for writers. Anything you write, anything you work on at all this interview is going to inspire you. Get a pen ready.

The Lesson: Make Art. Get over what anyone else thinks and do it. Keep doing it.

How Do I Write What The Audience Wants To Read?

Chuck Wendig. Terrible Minds.
Chuck Wendig is an author and blogger who’s never afraid to mince words and tell it like it is. In this post he talks about why it’s essentially a waste of time to attempt to write your novel aimed at a particular market. It’s funny, it’s irreverent, it’s inspiring. Read it now.

The Lesson:
Forget the market. Writing for a market is not writing for yourself and by the time you’re ready to publish, the market will probably have changed anyway.

Pep Talk by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman. National Novel Writing Month.
I had this printed out and pinned up on my wall for a long time (why did I take it down? I moved house recently and haven’t put it back up yet). Writer and creative extraordinaire, Neil Gaiman tells us a very human story (he is a super human, after all) about the doubt a writer can suffer when working through their manuscript; that feeling you get half way through when it seems like everything is crap and the ever present temptation to chuck it all away and start on something new and fresh and BETTER. More importantly, he tell you how to get over it.

The Lesson: Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I hope you get as much out of these as I did and continue to do. Like any bit of writing advice, feel free to take and use any of these as you need or ignore it as hackneyed nonsense and get on with it.

Got a particularly inspirational article about writing you’d like to share? Link to it here and let’s all get something out of it!

That post was courtesy of Kate Krake’s blog: The Write Turn 

I am hopeful that it might introduce you to some fine writing blogs that you may have missed, and that the links and musings about these stand-out (whether you agree with them or not) blog posts about the craft of writing, might encourage and inspire you to continue writing for just a little bit longer today…

Cheers! Lauren Delaney     

Love changes everything. tm                                        

25 Funniest Analogies

25 Funniest Analogies

This list of funny analogies came in an e-mail forwarded from a co-worker, who received it from their sister – so my apologies if you have recently read it too.

The e-mail says the analogies were taken from actual high school essays and collected by English teachers across the country for their own amusement.

I’m not sure if every one of the following analogies was actually written by a high school student as the note said, but they made me smile and I hope that they will make you smile too.

Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

The 25 Funniest Analogies

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a ThighMaster.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Some of these teens were born to be writers.
Lauren  🙂

Love changes everything. tm

 

Playing Chicken With Your Story

Playing Chicken With Your Story

Welcome to part IV of the 8-Part BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE Series. Wonderful food for thought here. Thanks Holly!

Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

 

Playing Chicken With Your Story
by Holly Lisle

And now we come to the hard bit. You’ve got your theme, and you’ve figured out how to bury it so that it’s there for you, and SOMETHING meaningful is there for your reader. You’ve let go of the temptation to write a message book—always difficult—and have embraced telling your story for the sake of the story.

So you start to write. And you find yourself pulling back every time you get close to putting something on the page that might be controversial, that might offend someone, that might tick off a reader.

You’re trying to write for everyone, and in doing this, you’re going to end up writing for no one. You’re killing the passion you feel for the story, the life it might have, the resonance you could bring to it, out of your fear. You are systematically ripping out the soul of your book.

Here are three things I’ve learned and that you’ll need to make a part of your writing if you’re going to keep your story alive.

1) You cannot write for everyone, and you must not try to.

It is impossible to have the whole world as your audience, and it is impossible to have everyone love you. In fact, on about a one-to-one ratio, the more people you have who passionately love your work, the more people there will be who passionately hate it. Some of these readers—on both ends of the spectrum—will then go on to transfer their feelings about your work to you.

This is part of the gig.

You can, therefore, either strive to write the books that will stir the passions of readers, and give some of them stories that will move them and change them and bring wonder and joy and hope to their lives…or you can gut your work of all feeling, all life, all rage and fury and glory, in the hopes that the pitiful rag you’re left with will gain the admiration of the PC people, who live to have their feelings hurt.

Of the two, I’d rather have my audience among the people who are not offended by strong opinions and who are not afraid to have their own. So I’ll shoot for writing books people can love, accepting that this means I’ll have plenty of detractors, too.

2) If you do not have an opinion, you do not have a story.

Here’s one for you. “All men are potential rapists.” Have you ever heard anyone say that? Here’s a secret. Every person who has ever said that is an idiot. A small percentage of men, and a small percentage of women, are potential rapists, and a smaller percentage of each are actual rapists, and the rest are people who have morals and ethics and who would not, under any circumstances, rape anyone.

That’s an opinion, and you could write a good, powerful story by burying that opinion as a theme or a subtheme in your novel. It will give you heroes and villains, forward momentum, great conflict, struggles to prove innocence or guilt, moments of defeat and moments of triumph. It will give you something to care about, a reason to keep writing, and a reason for your reader to keep reading. The outcome will matter, because one side is right, and one side is wrong.

If you do not have an opinion, though, you do not have a story. The ‘no opinion’ stance means your hero will be no better (and no worse) than your villain—in fact, you’ll have to slide to the weaker position of having a protagonist and an antagonist, and even then, neither you nor your reader can really like one better than the other. Nobody is good, nobody is evil, everyone is just misunderstood.

‘No opinion’ means that it doesn’t matter whether someone wins in your story, or someone loses, because neither option is right, and neither option is wrong. You’re stuck with the ultimately boring, helpless stance of having Fate decree one outcome over another, and having the reader not really care anyway. If you do not have an opinion that can carry the story forward, all you’ll have is a long, tedious vignette in which nothing that matters happens, simply because nothing matters.

3) Every once in a while, people need to be offended.

Yes. I said it. Being offended can be good for the mind and the soul. It forces you to think. People who are easily offended are people who do not want to think, who do not have the courage of their convictions, who want to be fed pablum and sheltered from the hot spices of real life and real opinion and outcomes that matter. ‘Don’t offend me’ is the whine of the coward who does not want to have to judge issues on their merits (what, you want me to pick sides? Why can’t everybody be right?) and does not want anyone else to, either.

Well, everybody can’t be right. Some people, some issues, some positions, are just flat-out wrong. Pretending otherwise does not change that truth.

This is life. Issues have real merits. Thought is necessary for survival. If you fight your way through to opinions that you have earned by judging issues on their merits, you will be able to write stories with real kick. And even though you’re going to be burying those opinions in metaphor, the strength of your passion and the richness of your story’s stakes will be able to wake up a few sleepers who have been following along through life, not challenging themselves, because no one ever challenged them first.

Dare to have the courage of your convictions. Dare to think hard, to earn your opinions, and then to write them into your work. Dare to write stories worth telling. Dare to pick sides, dare to write your truth. Dare to be meaningful.

The book you save will be your own.

In BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE, Part V, Dig Deeper With Your Novel’s Subthemes, you’ll find out three ways to bring in more of your passions and fears, and use them to make your story richer, and add layers of surprise and meaning.

About the Author
Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Her next novel, THE RUBY KEY, (Orchard Books) will be on shelves May 1st. You can receive her free writing newsletter, Holly Lisle’s Writing Updates at http://hollylisle.com/newsletter.html

Published At: www.Isnare.com

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm