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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Theme, another word for premise

cj Sez:  How does one come up with a theme for a novel? I usually find something in the news, but that’s too incredibly ominous and ugly right now. So, let’s get lighter. First, let's agree that novels need a theme, a premise on which to hang the action and plot points. An overall theme continues as a thread through the novel. It lets a writer connect the dots of subplots to the main plot. One way to get a handle on finding your theme/premise might be to think about describing your novel in one sentence, as with a cliché. Just come up with the idea, then polish it into a back-of-the-book blurb.

Caveat:  A cliché is, by definition, a trite and overused expression . . . a figure of speech that has become tiresome and uninteresting. Several experts advise against the use of clichés in your narrative. In fact, author and editor Sol Stein has this advice: “Cut every cliché you come across. Say it new and say it straight” (Stein on Writing, 1995).

Clichés are those taboo things that writers should avoid like the plague, but they can be good fodder for this exercise. Think about it. For a romance story, how about this? “Love will find a way.” Then every time you put an obstacle in a character’s path on the way to her happily ever after, that obstacle can be overcome with some kind of act of love . . . even self-love (conceit, egotism) is fair game. 

In “All is fair in love and war,” the premise is that the character can do whatever he/she can in order to capture the heart of a lover

For a love story (which doesn’t always end happily ever after): “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” 

Or how about this for a YA or memoir: “A coming of age story.” That keeps the threads of the story tied to some agonizing affliction and growth of young people over a longer time span. 

A possible theme for one of my works in progress could be “My brother’s keeper.” The novel is about an American woman that wants to extract her brother from a terrorist cell.

What if one of your characters is fond of vocalizing a cliché? I say, okay. Use them in that character’s dialogue.  However, too much of that can become distracting to your readers. Even Stein's new and straight words can become hackneyed when used too often.

I’m going back to my WIPs and working on themes and premises with clichés in mind. Wish me luck, and I wish you luck with yours. If you have a different way of working on theme/premise, let me know how you do it. I love, love, love learning new methodologies.

In the meantime, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

cj

PS The artwork is something I’m sharing from my Facebook page. 

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