To Do for Week 9: Theme

Screenshot 2013-10-12 21.02.40


T 10/15

  • Week 8 Blog Post Due: Lindsay Gregg

Th 10/17

  • Weekly Words #8: due by Sunday, 10/20 at 5 PM. Focus: Using the tips from lecture regarding how to develop the theme of your novel, think about three scenes in which the theme is present. The first bell chime. The second. And then the third.


The students inside the fishbowl have now read and discussed all four novels that I used as models:

  • Election
  • Sideways
  • Pure
  • Mrs. Bridge

This week, they are working on their Weekly Words (3 weeks to go!) and on their projects. They have to do a Reverse Storyboard Project on a novel of their choice or an Extraction Project on Mrs. Bridge.

They are also beginning to think about shoring up a good “partial” (the first 20 pages or so) to share with their Beta Groups in a few weeks.

This is the last week of my lectures or units. It’s not that there’s nothing left to say about writing novels. Oh no, there’s so much more. But for now, I think I’ve introduced everyone to the key concepts of beginning a novel.

The subject for this week is Theme.

  • Theme is premise.
  • Theme is meaning.
  • Theme is idea/s.
  • Theme is what makes a novel worth reading, in my opinion.

Much of my lecture comes from Donald Maass chapters on theme in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (Part III, chapter 31). I know I’ve recommended you go buy this book in the past. So let me say it again: go buy this book. His exercises will help you discover and/or develop a theme.

Further reading

Choosing a theme.

The heart of your story.

What is it and how do we develop it?

I saved theme for last because it’s complicated and not exactly something you should have all figured out at the outset.

If you’re a plotter, then you might have started your novel with a theme you’re trying to impart. That might not be the best idea, although it works for some people.

If you’re a pantser, then you might not know what your theme is until you finish a draft of the whole book. That might not be the best idea, either, although it works for some people.

The point is this: all novels have something to say. Even schlocky, pulpy novels. If you’re writing a novel, that means you have something in you that you want to say. Own that.

You have to believe this if you're ever going to finish your novel.

You have to believe this if you’re ever going to finish your novel.

Writing Assignment

  • Write three scenes in which the theme of your book is somehow present. And remember: it’s not about symbols! Theme is much more organic than that.
  • Other than that, write write write. You’ve got three more weeks to generate as many words as you can before the Generation Phase of the class is over.


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