Archive for category Resources
Having a theme for a novel or story is something I’ve always struggled with. I can cope with the internal and external conflicts that a character must have and the plotting of the ‘journey’ each character must go on, in order to emerge, changed in some way, at the end of the tale. The theme is something much bigger but also much simpler than all of this other detail. The theme will not be mentioned explicitly in the story but will occur and reoccur subtly throughout the narrative in the actions of your characters. The theme will generally be something to do with being human, for example growing old, maternal love or keeping secrets.
I don’t believe it’s necessary to have the theme before starting a fiction project because often it will evolve organically. For example you may notice that your characters are all motivated by greed, be it in slightly different ways, maybe one is greedy for money but another is greedy for fame and attention.
So what made me start thinking about theme?
A friend of mine, children’s author Lorraine Hellier sent me a useful link to an article on theme on the Reedsy blog. The article compares the structure of a novel to an iceberg split into three sections:
- Plot i.e. the events of the narrative. This is the smallest part of the structure.
- Story i.e. internal and external character conflicts.
- Theme. This is the huge chunk of iceberg beneath the water and drives both the plot and the story.
I’ve found this a useful concept to muse on as I ponder over what should happen next or how a character should act/react in my current WIP.
Knowing your theme makes it much easier to tell others what your book is about. Instead of delving into the detail of the plot, start with a sentence on the theme, for example, “It’s about how power corrupts.” (Animal Farm by George Orwell)
Why not take a look at the Reedsy article and let me know what you think?
When I’m working on the first draft of something, I go for speed. There’s no time to ponder the best word – I just want to get to the end of the story before I forget what’s supposed to happen next!
However, as I work my way back through the manuscript, editing and re-writing, I realise that I’ve used the same words over and over again. This is not good and I have to start thinking of alternatives. That’s when an infograhic like the one below comes in useful and gets the grey cells checking out other suitable words.
The below infographic kindly supplied by Donna Norton of Custom Writing.
If you write for children it’s important to know that the language and sentence structures within your work are suitable for the age range of your target reader. For the rest of us, it can be useful to get an idea of how accessible our writing is, i.e. is it understandable to most people or are our sentences and words too long?
The children’s author Lorraine Hellier recently introduced me to a function within Microsoft Word that measures the readability of manuscripts. It’s very easy to set up. Within Word take the following steps:
- In the ‘File’ tab, click ‘Options’.
- Select ‘Proofing’.
- Ensure the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box is selected.
- Select the ‘Show readability statistics’ box.
Next time the spell check facility is used within a document, at the end you will be shown a ‘Readability Statistics’ pane. Among other things this shows the Flesch Reading Ease Index, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and the percentage of passive sentences.
The Flesch Reading Ease index works on a 100 point scale, the higher the index, the easier a document is to understand. A score between 60 and 70 is acceptable for most documents.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level gives a manuscript a US school grade level. This link gives a conversion from US school grade to age and to UK school year. Roughly, the US grade + 1 = UK school year. For example 5th grade = year 6 = age 10/11.
Writers for adults will find the passive sentence percentage most useful. Eliminating passive sentences makes any writing more immediate and effective. We often write passive sentences without noticing, so this is a great tool for highlighting the need to go back through a story and rewrite these phrases.
How easy to read (and active!) is your work?
We collected signatures for the petition, marched through the town centre shouting ‘Save Our Library’, were interviewed by ITV for Central News (but unfortunately that got left on the cutting room floor), listened to speeches by the rally organisers and our MP Andrew Mitchell, Birmingham City Councillor Rob Pocock, Sutton Coldfield Town Councillor Ewan Mackey and eventually we stood up and said a few words ourselves in support of the library.
In between all this excitement we managed a bit of writing chat. Heide told us about the Birmingham Reader’s Map that she curates via her website. It shows the locations of novels set in and around Birmingham and Heide has kindly added Bedsit Three (set in a fictional part of north Birmingham) to the map.
If you’d like to see what other literary gems are set in the West Midlands, use the ‘+’ sign to enlarge the map below and have a hunt around. If you know of any other book that should be on the map, contact Heide and let her know.
Satan’s Shorts, a collection of short stories co-written by Heide and her writing partner, Iain Grant is FREE on Amazon. The book description is intriguing, “Curious about the day that Saint Christopher found out he’d been declared non-existent by the pope? What exactly is a cat in Hell’s chance? How would an annual Christmas present exchange between Heaven and Hell work out? Find out the answers to these and other pressing questions in this collection of short stories from the world of Clovenhoof.”
The latest was a book I found in Waterstones (and it’s also available on Amazon).
712 More Things to Write About is full of ideas to help when that well of inspiration is empty. It’s put together by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and is in a large paperback journal format with room to write beneath each prompt. There are things like, ‘You look out the window and discover a body floating face down in your pool’ and ‘Write a haiku about your underwear’. The prompts in this book will keep any writer going well past the end of 2017. And prompts are often just what I need!
So, I bought the book and gave it to my husband to wrap up for me. Roll on Christmas when I can get it back in my greedy mitts again!
If the 50,000 word marathon of NaNoWriMo is too much for you, have a go at this 50 word story competition organised by Just Write.
It’s free to enter and an open theme but the story must be exactly 50 words – not as easy as it sounds!
There are prizes of books and ‘literary goodies’ plus the winner will be published on tyjustwrite.com.
Closing date is 30th November 2016 and entry is by email or post.
This competition could be a useful exercise in focusing the mind and creating an elevator pitch for your NaNoWriMo work-in-progress.
Also, there was a wordpress glitch when I published my last post and I don’t think notification emails were sent out. In case you missed it, it was 200 Powerful Words to Use Instead of Good .