Sunday, 7 January 2018

More Common Writing Mistakes

Following on from last time with the most common writing mistakes that writers fall foul, here are a few more that are common among writers, especially those new to writing:
Lack of conflict
Lots of writers don’t pay attention to this. In every story there must be conflict. That conflict comes in many ways – from other characters, from outside influences or it comes from within the main character. These incidents and obstacles all demand reaction and resolution, and often escalate towards the denouement, so without all this, the story will fall flat.
Think of it this way – your main character needs purpose, which means there is a story, but people (and other things) get in the way of that and often cause problems. And with problems there is often some kind of conflict. The main character has to overcome all this to get to the end of the story.
The outcome of all this? The conflict advances the story.
Run-on sentences/Comma splices
Everyone does it, no matter their experience, and often writers don’t know what run on sentences or comma splices are.
A run-on sentence contains two or more independent clauses. An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb that can stand alone as a sentence which is not connected by punctuation – a co-ordinating conjunction (and, but, or etc.). So, in effect, the sentences simply ‘run on’ to each other without the correct punctuation, for example:
John knew the risk in the back of his mind but time was running out he knew the danger.
In this example, each independent clause is not separated with punctuation, so they run on. With the correct co-ordination conjunction added and punctuation, the sentence then becomes grammatically correct:
John knew the risk in the back of his mind, but time was running out and he knew the danger.
Comma splices are really no different, because when you join two independent clauses with a comma, but leave out the conjunction, you create a poorly structured sentence, like this:
John grabbed the glass, he guzzled the cold drink.
‘John grabbed the glass’ is an independent clause. ‘He guzzled the cold drink’ is also an independent clause. These two sentences are ‘spliced’ together with the comma. To correct this, the correct conjunction should be added, for example:
John grabbed the glass and guzzled the cold drink.
Writers use the comma splice all the time without even realising it. It really is that common. It takes practice to spot them, but eventually writers will get used to identifying them and will avoid using them.
Bad Dialogue
Bad dialogue is often found with new writers who haven’t yet got to grips with it or how it’s formatted. Fortunately that eventually comes with experience.
Dialogue is one of the most effective ways to deliver information to the reader in terms of what is happening in the story - it moves the story along while at the same time it reveals characterisation.
Readers want realistic but dynamic dialogue. Each character should have a distinct voice that matches his/her character. Readers don’t want mundane stuff that has no bearing on the story, like conversations about the weather or popping to get groceries. And they don’t want to listen to wooden, clichéd conversation either.
If you listen to real conversations, they are often brief in structure. Someone says something no more than a sentence or two long, then the other person speaks, then back to the other person. This is why writers avoid long conversations that interrupt the action too much. It’s all about pace. Mingle the pace of dialogue – some brief, a smattering of slightly longer, and brief again.
Readers want the tension and mood from dialogue, but most of all, they want emotion. Keep it varied, keep it pertinent to the story and always move the story forward.
New writers overuse clichés and hackneyed phrases. But that’s normal for those new to story writing. Everything improves with experience.
Clichés creep in when the writer doesn’t use new ways of describing things. Often they pick something that is familiar, such as ‘as quick as a flash’, ‘he was as fit as a fiddle’ or ‘it was gut wrenching’. When these phrases were first used, they were obviously not clichés. They were new and fresh. But the more phrases and words get used, the more stale they become.
So to avoid them, writers need to come up with new, fresh and dynamic phrases and descriptions; the kind of things we haven’t heard before. It’s the kind of thing that will make your work stand out above others.
Editing As You Go
The raw draft is the bare bones of any novel and writers just need to get it written, however, many writers can’t resist the temptation to go back and edit what they’ve done before they continue writing. While this may seem absolutely fine, the advice is to leave editing for when the raw draft is written. And there is a very good reason why. If you're constantly self-editing as you go, you will impede the process, you’ll create further problems down the line and eventually the writing will grind to a halt.
You can’t edit something that has yet to be written. In other words, if you tweak around with chapter 14, but this will have a direct bearing on a plot revelation in chapter 32, then you will have impeded the process. The plot changes as we write, it grows with the story, we add sub-plots and more themes and so on, but none of this is possible if you edit as you go, because things will be missed or you won’t spot stuff. This is why it’s so important to write the bare bones and then do a read through and do the first full edit.
Next week: Dealing with rejections


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Avoid Top 5 Writing Mistakes - Make Your Writing Better

As another writing year draws to a close, it’s worth looking at the basic errors all writers make at some point, so that you ensure they don’t reoccur in your own writing. Learning about the most common ones will help you avoid them in future and thus make your writing better.
The ones I’ve listed are very common mistakes that all writers have made during their writing. There are, of course, dozens and dozens more well-known writing mistakes – and certainly more complicated ones – but as an editor, the following five are the most common that I encounter:
Lack of Planning
One of the biggest mistakes to make is to not do any planning at all, especially if you’re embarking on something as complicated as a novel. No rule exists that writers must plan, but it’s a simple fact that even a small amount of planning – some characterisation, plot points and perhaps some themes etc. – will result in a better story than one thrown together without any real thought.
Editors know when a writer hasn’t done any planning. The story is often incoherent, it rambles, there’s little pace, there’s weak characterisation, no meaningful plot points, it sags in the middle or the story stutters because the writer ran out of ideas and often the plot is peppered with too many mistakes. To an editor it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. A well-structured novel has had some kind of planning. Any writer that argues until they are blue in the face that they’ve written a great story without any planning isn’t being entirely truthful - it never works.
Even established writers who call themselves ‘pantsters’ do actually plan to a degree. They’d write some pretty crappy stories otherwise.
Incorrect Verb forms
This is about knowing the difference between past, present and progressive tenses.
Most writers use past tense, but by doing so they rely heavily on the progressive tense- denoted by the use of the verb ‘to be’, and used in conjunction with the present participle, the narrative becomes clogged with words ending with ‘ing’, for  example:
He sat at the table, drinking his beer and dealing the cards to himself, thinking about what would happen in the morning...
The narrative relies too much on the ‘ing’ constructions (or gerund constructions), which leaves the whole structure weak. Keep narrative strong by controlling the use of progressive tense, for example:
He sat at the table, drank his beer and dealt the cards to himself. He thought about what would happen in the morning...
The example shows a much stronger narrative which keeps to the past tense. There are occasions when the progressive is needed, but writers need to learn to spot where they are required, as opposed to when they’re not.
Use of Was
Without doubt the single most reason for telling rather than showing. ‘Was’ renders the narrative passive, but it also strangles any chance of being descriptive. Writers – new authors especially – rely too much on this innocent looking little word.
Jenny was by the door when David approached. It was still raining, but that didn’t matter. He was home at last, after almost two years away.
She was smiling and almost crying, knowing that there was every chance he’d never make it home...
There are five instances of ‘was’. There are also several instances of unnecessary gerunds. Without ‘was’, the narrative can breathe. It can show the reader, not tell them, for instance:
Jenny stood by the door when David approached. It rained fine silver threads, but that didn’t matter. He had made it home at last, after almost two years away.
She smiled; tears brimmed. She knew that there remained a real, dreadful chance he’d never make it home...
The example no longer tells the reader. It shows more descriptive words. That’s because it’s not being stifled by ‘was’ every few words. It’s more expressive and it’s stronger by comparison. Not only have that, but the gerunds – ‘ing’ words – have also vanished.
If you want better, stronger writing, cut down on the use of ‘was’.
Hanging Participles
The hanging particle is the most common cause of bad sentence structuring and misplaced ambiguity. Editors don’t like them much, and for good reason. Writers liberally pepper their writing with these horrible constructions, by mixing the arrangement of words (participles should describe an action performed by the subject of the sentence), to leave the participle hanging.
Pulling back the curtains, she saw the sun.
She either pulled back the curtains or she saw the sun. The participle at the beginning of the sentence is hanging from the subject.
The correct version would be: She pulled back the curtains and saw the sun. Here’s another example of the participle incorrectly placed to leave it hanging:
Flicking on the kettle, she opened the mail.
Again, by arranging the words correctly within the sentence, the construction becomes instantly better:
She flicked on the kettle and opened the mail.
And lastly, here’s an example that shows the ambiguous nature of hanging participles:
Opening the car door, the hazy light smiled.
The ambiguity here is that light – smiling or otherwise – can’t open a door. These constructions are the worst, yet writers don’t realise how bad the sentence structures really are. The correct version is:
He opened the car door and that the hazy light smiled.
If you dangle your participles, you make the narrative look amateurish, it weakens the structure and you’re in danger of creating ambiguity, the kind that will have the reader sniggering.
But famous writers use them...right? They do, unfortunately, and they ought to know better. But that’s a reflection of poor editing as well as bad writing. Being a famous writer does not make them immune to writing crap.
If you want to make your writing better, don’t dangle your participles.
Wrong POV
First person or third person?
Very often, writers choose first person POV without understanding just how complicated it can be, especially for a full length novel. They also choose it because it’s popular with certain genres, but first person doesn’t suit all. And it’s not until it’s too late that the writer realises they’ve made a mistake. That’s because first person is so restrictive and complicated.
Third person is the best POV to gain writing experience. It’s not restrictive, it allows multiple viewpoints, more tension, atmosphere and emotion, but most of all, the writer can exploit conflict in unprecedented ways.
If new to writing, avoid first person until you’ve gained some experience. Practically every writer thinks they understand it. But they truly don’t.
Once you’ve gained some writing experience using third person, then practice with first person. That way, tenses won’t prove as daunting.
So there are the most common writing mistakes that editors will immediately spot. But there are some others, such as run on sentences, bad dialogue, editing while writing, lack of conflict or pace, hackneyed phrases and so on.  But if you get these basic five right, you’ll find your writing will become so much better and tighter, and the overall quality will improve dramatically.
Thanks to everybody for stopping by throughout the year to read some of the articles and hopefully become better writers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.
AllWrite will return in the New Year.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

How to Construct Subplots – Part 2

In this part, we’ll look at how to construct subplots, but from the perspective of first person, which is much harder to get to grips with.
The question here is: can subplots be constructed in a first person story? After all, there is only one perspective in first person – the protagonist.  And that’s it. It’s not like having the diversity of multiple viewpoints as with third person stories, but that’s not to say that subplots can’t be done in first person. They can, but they’re quite limited.
Unlike third person stories, where the viewpoint can change from character to character, and the richness of different character views can come into play (and so subplots can weave around the main character), with first person, this just isn’t possible. First person stories have to involve the main character, since the story cannot be told from any other character other than ‘I’ of your main character.
By being involved in a subplot, the main character gets to see different outlooks of other characters, because they will be involved on a personal, individual level. But in order to carry different subplots, it means the main character must be sufficiently complex, otherwise the just won’t be interesting enough to sustain more than the main plot.
Let’s look at the crime novel example from part 1, but this time as first person. It would have the following basic plot structure:
The protagonist, a cop who’s never played by the rules, is brought in to help solve a crime similar to one that happened 20 years earlier and the suspect was never caught. His story is the main plot.
The antagonist is the main suspect, a high-profile politician who may or may not be guilty. He was suspected 20 years ago of a similar crime. But he has friends in high places. This is a subplot - but instead of telling the subplot from the perspective of the villain, it must be told from the cop’s POV – as the first person. That means he will be involved on a personal level with this character, so it will certainly involve more of his inner thoughts and feelings, what he thinks, how he reacts to the villain and how the villain acts and so on. These thoughts and feelings are more amplified than if it were third person simply because it’s all told through the main character’s eyes. It’s all personal to him.
The cop falls for the antagonist’s ex-wife, but he can’t be entirely sure whether to trust her or use her to his advantage. This is another subplot – but again, instead of telling the subplot from the perspective of the ex-wife, it must be told from the cop’s POV. That means he will react to her, his thoughts will reflect what is happening and his feelings will also mirror this. It all must be told from his perspective. These two subplots will then connect to the main plot of finding the killer, but the whole story will remain the POV of the main character throughout.
A successful first person story subplot relies on hints, implication and inference from the other characters. These can then be interpreted through the eyes of the main character.
This is just one of the reasons why first person stories are quite hard to master – they are very restricted in what the author can achieve, so they need a lot of planning and thought.
Whichever you choose – third person or first person – adding subplots enriches the story, strengthens characterisation, heightens reader interest and adds variation to the overall story.
Next week: Avoid common mistakes – make your writing better

Sunday, 26 November 2017

How to Construct Subplots – Part 1

A subplot is an essential part of any novel. These little side stories add depth to the main story, and they help develop other characters beside the protagonist. They run parallel to the main plot; they are connected to it, but they should be constructed in a way that they never overwhelm the main story.
They are designed to maintain further interest within the story, so that the reader will never get bored, and they help give the overall story lots of variation and substance. They add extra layers and levels of complexity to the story. In other words, there’s plenty to keep the reader occupied. A subplot can involve any of the main characters – the protagonist, the antagonist or secondary characters, so some of the story is seen through their eyes.  They are all part of the main story, but they might also have their own stories that relate to the main story, so they might have different goals, different perspectives and different agendas and they will have different obstacles to overcome.
The thing about subplots is that they support the main plot.  So if you were to remove that subplot, the main plot wouldn’t collapse without it. At the same time, don’t overcomplicate the story with so many threads that it’s hard for the reader to keep track.
Subplots should be clear, not confusing.
Creating Subplots
It always starts with the main plot and characters. The main plot is always the main character’s story. But within that story there are other characters to consider. The antagonist is one – they have a story, too. Then there may be some important secondary characters to consider who may be involved with the hero or the villain, or may have their own agenda.
You then need to ask what the purpose of the subplot is. What will it achieve? Is it to help tell a different perspective to the story?  Is it to show important events that the reader wouldn’t otherwise be aware of? How does it relate to the main story?
Creating a subplot doesn’t necessary start at the beginning of the writing process. It can happen halfway through, or even at editing stage when the writer feels that a subplot may be necessary to help expand the main story. However they manifest, the writer should consider how important the subplot is to the main story, what is achieves and how it will be resolved before the end.
Let’s look at a simple example of a crime novel. It would have the following basic plot structure:
  • The protagonist, a world weary cop who’s never played by the rules, is brought in to help solve a crime similar to one that happened 20 years earlier and the suspect was never caught. His story is the main plot.
  • The antagonist is the main suspect, a high-profile politician who may or may not be guilty. He was suspected 20 years ago of a similar crime. But he has friends in high places. This is a subplot.
  • The cop falls for the antagonist’s ex-wife, but he can’t be entirely sure whether to trust her or use her to his advantage. This is another subplot.
In this story, the antagonist becomes the main suspect, but with few clues and high profile friends to shield him, he knows he will get away with it, which aggravates the protagonist. This subplot will interact with the main plot and converge at the end.
The protagonist falls for the suspect’s ex-wife, thus complicating matters. But can he trust her? And could he use her to his advantage, putting the relationship at risk? This subplot will weave in and out of the main story and resolve at the end.
Subplots like this can weave through the main story. Writers do this by starting new chapters from the character’s viewpoint. Placed correctly, they should help enhance the story. This can be a trial by error sometimes and can involve some editing and switching around – that’s perfectly normal. But the end result is that these ‘subplot’ chapters carefully interspersed within the main chapters, help tell the full story and often converge at the end to complete the story arc.
Well-crafted subplots weave in and out of the main plot and often interact with the main plot for some time before they are resolved. Let’s look at another example in the thriller genre:
  • The protagonist is a hard-working successful businessman who seems to have the perfect family and home, but he hides a secret. This is the main plot.
  • A stranger from the past turns up – the antagonist – who knows of the protagonist’s dark secret and threatens to shatter his perfect family life. This is a subplot.
  • The wife begins to suspect her husband isn’t all he seems and confides her fears in her best friend, who has never liked the husband. This is a subplot.
  • The eldest daughter becomes embroiled with the stranger when he takes a liking to her, thus complicating a delicate situation. This is a subplot.
It’s clear here that the antagonist is out to cause the main character trouble. It’s payback for something that happened in the past. His motivation is to destroy his former friend’s life in any way he can. This subplot will interact with the main plot and converge at the end.
The protagonist’s wife grows suspicious of her husband’s behaviour and begins to think that the man she married isn’t the ‘perfect’ guy after all. She turns to her best friend for support, but she has never liked the husband and sees an opportunity to have a dig and force them apart. This subplot will weave in and out of the main story from time to time before being resolved at the end.
The protagonist’s teenage daughter is charmed by the antagonist, and he uses her as leverage, which causes conflict within the family, especially with her father. This subplot will pop in and out of the main story from time to time until it’s resolved.
You can see here how the subplots could interact with the main plot. And by using new chapters or different character perspectives, writers can expand extra story threads like these to help tell the full story without overcomplicating things.
But what about first person stories? Are they possible? The answer is yes and in Part 2 we’ll look at how to approach subplots for first person stories.
Next week: How to Construct Subplots - Part 2

Sunday, 19 November 2017

How Important Is Realism In Fiction?

Every story needs to have at least some hint of realism, even if the work is fictitious. That’s because the story is fictitious, not the setting, the era or history or the minor details. That’s where the realism should be.
The idea is that a story needs to be believable and you want the reader to become immersed in the story. To achieve this, the story has to feel not just believable, but also real. And the characters need to feel real, too.
With the exception of fantasy and sci-fi novels, realism in fiction is about portraying a certain reality. And the key word to understanding this is: plausibility. The story, the characters, their motivations, the setting and the plot all need to be plausible, regardless of genre.
Readers want something that makes sense, something they could relate to, even if they’ve never experienced certain things, and that means they want some kind of realism – it’s what makes a fictional story seem real. This is known as verisimilitude.
This is why suspension of disbelief is so vital for a story to work. The reader needs to see beyond the fact that the story isn’t actually real, but that it is so good and feels so tangible that they suspend their disbelief and truly immerse themselves to the point that immediacy is created – they can relate to the characters and story; they feel the emotions and can empathise, even if it’s fantasy or a science fiction story. That’s because characters are fully drawn, multi-dimensional ordinary people struggling with relatable problems in extraordinary circumstances.
Creating realism means making use of a number of elements - creating a realistic setting, having a plausible plot, believable characters and so on.
Where setting is concerned, a place doesn’t have to be real in order to feel real. The place becomes real enough for the reader through how good your descriptions are. Lame description – or telling – doesn’t help the reader to enter the fictional world you’ve created. It has to grab them, the place has to leap from the page; descriptions need to be visceral enough for them to see the neon reflections through the rain in a grimy city or the azure sky layered with clouds over a vast expansive landscape.  Description draws the reader.
Characters that feel real are characters that the reader can identify with, but don’t choose ridiculous names for your characters. Ordinary people in real life don’t have crazy names. Wild character names just detract from the fiction.  New writers are prone to this gaffe, in the belief that outlandish character names make the characters stand out.  Not so. The quality of writing makes writing stand out, not stupid character names.
Characters with believable actions are also important for realism – in other words, don’t have a character who, for instance, is an ordinary wife and mother of three who, inexplicably, is able to pick a deadlock with a paperclip or even hotwire security ridden cars, since most ordinary people can’t do this is real life It isn’t real, but writers often make this fundamental error. They turn their characters into experts at everything, when in fact they’re not. Unless your character is military, police, martial arts trained, a scientist or a trained expert at something else, don’t make your ordinary main character something he or she isn’t.
Realistic storylines are just as important as realistic characters. The plot has to be plausible. Readers have to suspend disbelief to an extent, but they won’t thank you if your story is too outlandish and utter claptrap. Real life is full of amazing stories, and so a fictional story, which by itself is a figment of a writer’s imagination, still needs to show that element of realism. Make your stories believable, not contrived.
Conflict also contributes to a sense of realism.  Life is full of conflict and no story is complete without them, however small or huge they might be. Everyone has problems to overcome. Everyone has arguments and fall outs. Life isn’t all rose tinted clouds. So stories should reflect this with a certain amount of truth.
You can see how these elements ensure that some realism makes it into your story. Realism is important to fiction because the reader will not be able to believe the story otherwise. They won’t find be able to relate to it, they won’t be able to identify with it, nor the situation or characters, and without the reader’s interest, they won’t want to read the story.

Next week: How to construct subplots

Sunday, 12 November 2017

How to Make a Story Flow

When writers talk of story flow, they are referring to the movement of the story and whether a novel moves smoothly from start to finish.
Every story needs to be dynamic in this way. It needs to be smooth, seamless and coherent. This is what we know as story flow, but it shouldn’t be confused with pace because pace is the speed at which a story moves.  Flow, on the other hand, refers to how the story moves along. It’s all about movement, and how it draws the reader in.
But why is flow important? It’s something that needs to occur in for the story to make sense to the reader. If a story doesn’t flow, then the story may be too confusing or disjointed for the reader to make any sense of it. This is why the movement of the story is critical – it must constantly move forward. This is why we refer to the importance of a story moving forward.
How does story flow work?
Both scenes and chapters need to be relatable – the action needs to progress in a logical manner and not go off at tangents. Actions must be logical and escalate accordingly – the time and the order of unfolding events need to be in a certain order, so a character does something that leads to another action, and that leads to other actions and so on. In other words, one scene needs to lead effortlessly and consistently to the other, all while revealing the plot.  And a story that sticks to the plot is a story that works.
Subplots also support story flow – but they need to be relatable, too, in the same way that the main plot is. The help to continue the story forward, they help with this constant movement because they provide extra threads of interest for the reader which helps to push things towards the conclusion.
Varied pace is also key to story flow. Reflective scenes coupled with action scenes give the reader the sense of things speeding along or slowing down, which helps with the movement of the story.
Dialogue is another important tool. Through dialogue, characters reveal information and hint at things to come and so on, and are therefore vital to story flow. Dialogue links narrative to description and vice versa, and helps to link different scenes, thus giving the sense that the story is moving.
The most obvious thing when all these factors are brought together is that the story makes sense, that it’s uncomplicated and it moves smoothly.
When a story doesn’t flow, the problems are compounded, because it has a negative effect on the writing. There are familiar problems with flow. The obvious one is that the story won’t make sense; therefore the order of action won’t work. This is down to poor writing and the reader will find it hard to follow the plot. The other problem is that the pace may be affected, too.
Confusion also causes problems. If the reader is confused about badly written characters, or there are too many characters, this will impede the story flow.  Not only that, but writers can also make the story so convoluted that it’s impossible for the reader to understand what’s going on. New writers in particular are guilty of making their story too complicated in the belief that it will make a better story. It doesn’t. Stories can be complex, if thought out properly, but it’s better to keep things simple. 
You can spot all these problems when you read through the story. If you have to read sentences twice, or you trip over certain words or sentence constructions, then it means the flow isn’t working. Chapter and scene breaks can interrupt flow if they are not done correctly. That’s because if you create a break where there shouldn’t be one, it can disturb the entire flow of the story.  The more you do this, however, the better you become at seeing how flow works.
So how are these problems corrected?
They are usually noticed at the read-through stage, when the writer realises that the story isn’t quite right; it seems to jump aimlessly, or it feels disjointed, or it might be obvious that the story goes off course and doesn’t seem to bear much relation to the main plot. Sometimes the structure of the story is haphazard and hasn’t been thought out. This is where rewriting is a writer’s best friend.
Writers need to recognise such problems. They will then be able to rectify them and ensure the story sticks to the plot - that chapters don’t waffle and the subplots are relevant to the main story, but more importantly, each scene moves from one to the next logically and effortlessly.
Create the right words and sentences – this is what writing is about. Writing should be smooth, easy to understand, have rhythm and pace, fluidity, a sense of movement.  Actions, scenes, chapters and plot should all interconnect. That may sound daunting, but it really isn’t. Think of painting by numbers. Connect the dots and you make a picture. If you don’t connect the dots properly, then you have a problem. It’s not that different with writing. Connect the dots – character actions, within structured scenes, logically happening in sequence within specific chapters which relay the plot – and you have a full picture.
And that is story flow.

Next week: How important is realism in fiction?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

How to Include Themes in Stories

The relationship between themes and the main story is an important one. Themes underscore what happens in the story and provide the basis of the reader’s deeper understanding of the characters, their actions and what the true meaning is at the heart of the narrative.
When we think of themes, the most common ones we find in novels are love, betrayal, loneliness, acceptance, deceit, friendship and so on.  Most are formed around emotions; therefore what characters think and feel towards others can form a theme – hate, perhaps, or misunderstanding. This emotional element draws the reader – they can relate to many themes, therefore they will create some empathy.
Thriller and crime stories tend to lean heavily towards the darker side of human emotions – so themes of power, corruption, hate, mistrust, betrayal and deceit are very common. Romance novels rely on themes of love, naturally, but also might involve deceit, jealousy, betrayal and maybe forgiveness.
Themes run through the entire story. The main thing we notice about them is that they’re not visible. They dwell beneath the surface of the story like invisible threads. They can be quite subtle or they can be quite overt in nature. Like motifs, they can be repeated throughout the story to remind the reader, known as leitwortstil, by using recurring words or phrases to underpin the theme. Often such phrases and words are spoken by characters, so they become even more easily recognisable.
Many themes develop symbiotically with the story. They grow with and during the story because they're directly related to the characters and the plot. As they develop, so do the themes. And as a writer, you have to understand the relationship between theme and story arc. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird isn't just about racism. It has other themes: good v. evil, prejudice, distrust, hatred, friendship and innocence. These are borne from the very fibre of the story and not something that was added afterward. This is how themes work.
How Do You Include Theme Within Narrative?
Normally you’ll have a good idea of a central theme to your novel because of what the story is about.  For instance, a boy meets girl story will dictate the theme of love. A story of an awkward teen finding his way in the world will dictate a rites of passage theme. So within that central theme, and during the planning process, the writer will see more themes emerge, known as sub-themes.
The best way, then, to include themes within your stories is to know and understand the story and what it’s about before you even type a single word. That’s because themes don’t work if they are an afterthought. It’s hard to force themes to ‘fit’ the narrative. Don’t overthink themes, either. Writers sometimes try too hard to shoehorn themes into their stories without realising they have no relation to the story. Let the themes occur naturally.
With some idea of the main theme, you can then construct your story accordingly. For instance, if the main theme is injustice, then one might expect that one character inflicts the wrongdoing on the main character as part of the story plot. The main character suffers because of this, which will create conflict, but it will also create empathy with the reader, who will despise the villain and root for the poor protagonist. As the story expands, the main character decides to exact revenge for this injustice. This revenge becomes another theme, borne from the developing narrative.
Another example might be a main character that works for a big company and is downtrodden and treated badly by the greedy, power-hungry boss. The main theme is greed and power and the effect it has on people. As the story develops, circumstances change for the protagonist, who finally outsmarts the boss to impress his peers, leaving the greedy boss looking foolish. This overcoming the odds is a sub-theme that develops from the narrative. Empowerment could be another sub-theme.
This is how themes become part of stories. The main theme comes from the main plot, and the sub-themes materialise as the story and characters develop. Theme within narrative gives the story more colour and depth. Most novels have a main theme and multiple sub-themes running through them. It really depends on the story. So in other words, the more you understand your story, the better the themes you’ll be able to develop.Summary

  • The type of story will dictate a main theme. Look at the plot – what themes might arise?
  • What are you trying to say to the reader? – This will often be the main theme.
  • Planning or outlining the story will show possible sub-themes.
  • As the story unfolds, more themes may naturally emerge from the narrative.
  • Characters and their actions often give rise to sub-themes.

Next week: How to make your story flow.