Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NanoWrimo Blog #4--What does it all mean?

You are sooo close. You can finish, I know it.

Let me tell you a story about my first Nanowrimo:

The last week of November that year, I hosted a birthday party for my 1 year old, cooked and hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and had the stomach flu for the last two days. And I finished, anyway!

That’s meant as an inspiring story, by the way. I don’t usually brag about having the stomach flu.

As you finish up, on thing you can do is look at your story and ask “what does it mean?” Thematically, that is. Most of the time, I have no idea what themes are going to be in my book.  Even I have a plan for what themes I want to stress, but until the book is written, I really don’t know what is actually going to pop up.

Hence, the “Theme Spider” exercise. This is also from the Book in a Month text that I use in my class.

I use the Theme Spider as a way to identify more scenes I need to write to fill in the theme (which is really helpful in Week 4 of Nano), and as a tool to help revise the draft.

The “spider” looks like this:

Theme Spider
Why you wrote this story:

What you like about this story:
What you want readers to “get.”
Props used to express your theme:

How your main character and theme are connected:
Places where your theme is too overt or too subtle:

Scenes crucial to conveying your theme:
Personal message you want your story to convey:

Choices made to ensure your theme gets conveyed:

I fill out the Theme Spider by asking questions like these:

A.     Do the “Corners” first. Don’t fill in the “theme” box until you have a pretty good idea what it is.
B.     Why did you write this story? Maybe something sparked the idea for you. Maybe that idea was triggered an emotion in you. 
C.     What “personal message” do you want to convey? Is there a “reason” you wrote this book?  
D.    What is your goal? What do you want readers to “get”? What do you want your readers to understand when they set the book down after finishing it?
E.     What choices have you made to put the theme into your story? Consider the things you made a conscious effort to include.
F.     Think about the scenes that already have theme expressed. How are they working? Are they working? Are you too subtle? Too overt? Have you stuck a good balance?
G.     How well are your hero and the theme connected? Does your cynic of a rom-com hero eventually see that love conquers all? Does your heroine’s shortcomings make her learn something?
H.    Props can express theme. Use them. Think of the ship in “Heart of Darkness” shooting cannonballs into the jungle. Think of the catacombs in “The Cask of Amontillado.” Sorry. I’m a literature professor. I have to look up pop-culture references. Forgive me.

Message and Moral are different. Try to be subtle. You probably aren’t re-writing Aesop’s fables or a children’s book, so you won’t really want a “moral” to the story. If you are writing for grown-ups (and, frankly, any kid worth her salt), the reader isn’t going to want to be lectured at. Themes and messages in literature are meant to be suggested and then discussed over a bottle of wine (or chocolate milk). If you want to be direct, write a sermon. If you want to write stories, be subtle.

So, I guess that ends my month-long Nano Tips stint. Let me know if you enjoyed this series.

Next, I’ll add my voice to the cacophony voices discussing “I have written a book, what then heck is going on in the publishing industry right now?”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and write, dammit, write. You’re almost done.

The tips come from Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. The examples are mostly mine.

Feel like re-posting? Here’s a quote you can use:

As you finish up, on thing you can do is look at your story and ask ‘what does it mean?’”

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