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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.


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

Published At:

Cheers, Lauren

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.


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!


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

Published At:

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

Character Description: Working With Your Reader

Character Description: Working With Your Reader

I hope the weather is fine where you are today!

I will continue soon with Holly Lisle’s fine series of articles on how to ‘Bring Your Novel to Life’  but I thought that today you might enjoy this fun article by Susan J. Letham that provides a different take on characterization.

It can also be found on Jennifer Stewart’s Write101 site.

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm

Character Description: Working With Your Reader

by Susan J. Letham

One hallmark of great writing is that it creates an intimate relationship between writer and reader. Your aim isn’t just to tell the reader a story, but to share it with her, draw her in, allow her to use her own imagination as well as yours.
By helping your reader co-create her experience you hook her and keep her turning pages. So, how do you go about getting your reader to work with you this way?
You do it by mapping main points and leaving space for the reader to fill in the blanks, by drawing the outline and handing your reader a box of crayons. The easiest way to start putting this into practice is in connection with characterization.

Co-creation and Characterization

Stories are first and foremost about people. More precisely, stories deal with people who interact in certain ways with other people and situations.

Let’s look to life to see what this means for your writing. Maybe you have a new writer in your circle, or your kid has a new teacher, or your partner a new boss.

Once you’ve got past the names, what do you want to know about these people?
You probably want to know what they are like–not just what they look like, but the kind of people they are. You want orientation so you know what to expect. You want to be able to predict their actions, so you can tailor your responses to fit.

That’s the way your reader feels when she first walks into your story. She’s looking for orientation so she can understand the events about to unfold. She wants to know what the characters are like so she can predict how they’ll react in the story situations before you affirm her guesses by telling her. By giving your reader the information she wants, you make it easy for her to relax and enjoy the ride.
What does your reader need to know if she’s to co-create your characters? Let’s look and see how you can draw that outline for your reader to color in.

Focus on Qualities

Writers often introduce story characters through physical description. That’s helpful if appearance is a central theme but, as in real life, looks seldom mean much in connection with personality. An approach that describes traits is more helpful. Instead of first describing what your character looks like, answer the “What’s she like?” or the “What kind of person is she?” question instead.

The best way to learn this strategy is to try it out. Here are some examples to start you off. Choose a description that appeals to you and make notes about the character that comes to mind:

S/he’s the kind of person who’d…:
– keep piranhas.
– take walks in a graveyard.
– read Rilke.
– marry a senator.
– wear a pocket protector.
– buy photo wallpaper.
– picket “Victoria’s Secret.”
– love to be in “Big Brother.”
– make Machiavelli quake.

Note that the statements illustrate a ‘type’ and don’t mean that the character actually does the things mentioned, only that she might.

Describe the character’s appearance, what she does for a living, her home, her idea of a good night out. Write a scene that illustrates how your character lives the characteristic. How does a woman who’d make Machiavelli quake act in the office? What kind of office? What kind of character would she need as a lover, partner, business associate, adversary, friend? How did you do? Did you see images in your mind? I’d be extremely surprised if you didn’t see vivid images in response to the activity. The point is that your reader, too, will start to color in the outline you give her. Your reader will work with you and save you the trouble of telling her absolutely everything.

Once you’ve established that “Sarah is the kind of woman who’d buy photo wallpaper,” your reader won’t bat an eyelid when Sarah also buys a baby pink stretch mini-skirt to wear to the church dance.

A good way to practice this skill is to characterize your family and friends. If you had to describe the personalities of people you know well to a stranger, how would you make them sound intriguing by using vivid images?

Try it out:

– My partner is the kind of person who’d…
– My daughter is the kind of person who’d…
– My son is the kind of person who’d…
– My boss is the kind of person who’d…
– My teacher is the kind of person who’d…
– My neighbor is the kind of person who’d…

Character Creation Technique

Work this approach into your stories. Hook your readers by introducing characteristics before you mention outward appearance. Readers will want to read on and learn what you mean by your enigmatic character statement.

Compare these examples:

“Think we got ourselves a cult or something?”
A cult? I looked at Bruce. He must be kidding, I thought, but the look on his face didn’t seem to say so. He stood there, all five-eight and 200-pounds of him, running a hand over his blond crewcut, clearly waiting for me to give him an answer.

Does it matter what Bruce looks like at this point? Does it add to our image and understanding of the kind of person he is? Does it tell us about the relationship between the POV character and Bruce?

“Think we got ourselves a cult or something?”
A cult? I gave Bruce a ‘don’t be stupid’ glare. The only man I knew who openly read supermarket tabloids, he’d been spouting aliens and government conspiracies since the day I took office. (Kate Gerard)

By telling us about Bruce’s reading habits and the effects they have, the author of this second example paints a clear picture of his character and attitude. The example shows how the characters relate to each other.


Take some of your writing and practice this technique by rewriting the character introductions. Exactly how you word things will depend on the POV you’re using. If you’re using third person, you can have the narrator make the statement.If you’re using a limited POV, you can put the statement into the limited character’s thoughts. You can use dialogue to have a character make the statement out loud. Experiment until you feel you have something that works in each case.Your readers will love it!

© 2002, Susan J. Letham
Susan J. Letham is a British writer, multimedia author, andCreative Writing lecturer. Visit Inspired2Write and sign upfor quality writing classes and competent 1-on-1 coaching.
This article can be found at the Jennifer Stewart site.

 Cheers, Lauren
 Love changes everything. tm


What European City Do You Belong In?

Here’s a quiz for a snowy day and just for fun.

What European City Do You Belong In?

You Belong in London

You belong in London, but you belong in many cities… Hong Kong, San Francisco, Sidney. You fit in almost anywhere.
And London is diverse and international enough to satisfy many of your tastes. From curry to Shakespeare, London (almost) has it all!

I could live in London. 🙂 I think there are probably a lot of European cities that I could live in. Or at least visit for an extended period of time. Dublin, anyone?

Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?

Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?

Hi all,

Beginning today I’m going to share with you Holly Lisle’s terrific series of articles designed to help writers bring their novels to life! Thanks Holly!

The first article below is titled ‘Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?’

Food for thought, non? 🙂 I hope that you enjoy the articles as much as I have, and check back for Part II!

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm


Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?

by Holly Lisle

You’ve read through what you’ve written—your first few scenes, your first chapter, your completed novel—and you’ve discovered that your words don’t move you. They don’t make you want to keep reading. They don’t make you laugh or cry. If writing is bleeding on the page, well, you might have scratched yourself, but you don’t need a transfusion. And you don’t know what went wrong.
When you started writing, did you know what story you were telling? This is trickier than it sounds. You might have known your characters, you might have known your world, and you might have known your plot…but even with this much planning done, it’s entirely possible that you had not yet located your deep layer, the heart of your story, the engine that drove you to write it in the first place.

Odds are very good you did not know your theme.

Your theme is nothing more and nothing less than the heart of a novel. It is not a grade-school exercise in tedium, that single droning sentence you wrote that told your reader what you were going to tell him. In a novel, your theme is a living, vibrant, critical thing. It is your particular passion in this particular novel summed up in a handful of words. It is what you need to say.

Need. That’s the critical thing in a theme. If you’re writing novels, if you are doing something this complex and challenging, you’re doing it because something in you needs to write. You have something to express, some particular point of view, some set of life experiences, some driven hunger that you must put down on paper. You NEED. And you need to say what you need.

Maybe it is: In spite of having survived heartbreak, I believe in true love. Or: I believe good can triumph over greater evil. Or: If I were King of Everything, this is the way the world would be.
Your plot is the map of your story. Your theme is the map of your soul, and it is where your characters will find their direction, their flaws, their hungers, and their own passions. They only breathe with your breath, and they only bleed with your blood. Your plot may be Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl, but your theme—your take on the world based on your life, your own hopes and aspirations, your own beliefs—might be Chubby Bald Guy Deserves the Love of a Wonderful Woman.
You have themes in you. You’ve built them from love and courage, but you’ve built them from anger and fear, too. You live with them every day, when you’re muttering that argument you had with your spouse or colleague, designing better comebacks; when you’re watching the boss cheat someone and you’re getting furious about it; when you’re watching a disaster and telling yourself, Someone could have prevented that; when you’re hearing the latest political garbage and thinking, This is not the way the world should be.

I could do this better. I WOULD do this better.
And so you write.
You have rich, powerful, compelling, passionate themes boiling inside you. You have something worth saying. Now you just need to know how to figure out what it is, and how to get it on the page.
In Part II: How To Find Your Novel’s Pulse, you’ll learn how to identify your themes, and figure out which are worth pursuing.

About the Author
Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Her novel, THE RUBY KEY, (Orchard Books) is on shelves now. You can receive her free writing newsletter, Holly Lisle’s Writing Updates at
Published At:

Cheers, Lauren

Love changes everything. tm