Exploring the theme.
Every book has at least one. No theme, no story. Simple as that.
What is a theme? If you need to ask… fair enough. There’s too much to remember, and we have Google at our fingertips.
The theme of your story is the idea that your readers will think about – the subject/issue/topic that comes up throughout the story.
Ask yourself: what do I want to say? What do I want my readers to think about when they finish reading?
You want your theme to be present throughout the story – so this means within your supporting characters and subplots.
Themes are much simpler than you would expect, too. Think of it in terms of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The theme was slow and steady wins the race. Easy enough, right?
Just keep in mind: you’re informing us WHY this story needs to be told.
Make your characters stand out.
As writers, we have the increasingly difficult job of making our characters stand on their own two feet. Now we have to make them stand out too.
Even identical twins have their own distinct personalities, and that should be the same for your characters as well.
Today’s exercise is easy.
Come up with dialogue. You don’t even have to come up with it yourself. Find quotes or pick some out of whatever is playing on TV right now. Close your eyes and think of which character would say what.
If you can clearly hear them, and distinguish them from the others, then congratulations! Your characters stand out.
Every character has one. Whether it’s an older friend or relative, there’s someone who possesses wisdom or power that the protagonist just doesn’t quite have yet.
Think of your favorite books and movies. Who was the character that aided the protagonist? How did they do so?
The previous exercises should be done with the intent of answering one question: how should they best support the protagonists’ outer goal?
If it’s possible for them to understand what the inner conflict is for the protagonist, even better.
Don’t rely too hard on the supporting characters, but DO make sure you find that balance. They exist for a reason – they are devices for you to use… while also needing to be important and human.
It’s a tough job, being a writer.
The Love Interest
Maybe this doesn’t apply to your novel – it doesn’t always have to – but it’s good to keep in mind.
Why should I root for this potential couple?
Again, I want you to repeat previous character creating exercises, but build them a little bit around the protagonist. Why does the protagonist like this person? How do they compliment each other?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, why would they be bad for each other?
How does their trauma affect how they choose romantic partners (if at all)?
I’ve said this before, but the ultimate sin of any fiction is being boring.
Nobody wants to see a boring character on screen. Or on the page.
Think about the characters where people say, “they stole the show!” Those are the characters you want to write, because they resonate with readers.
Experience forms our choices, just like it will form your protagonists’. The supporting characters exist to help challenge them. I know I’m drilling this into your heads, but conflict and change is KEY.
Grab that list of your protagonists’ traits and habits. Write out the supporting characters as if to compare – and maybe contrast. Figure out where they were born, how long they’ve known the character, etc. Come up with your own beach episode – drop the characters on a random beach and decide how they would interact and react to each other.
Your main character isn’t the only one going on a journey. They can’t hold the giant pillar that is your story on their own. They need help, and those helpers can’t be flimsy pieces of paper.
An “excerpt” folder.
Every writer has one. There’s scenes or bits of dialogue that are so loud in your head, you have to jot them down. They might not fit into what you’re writing right now, but it’s too good to let slip away.
I have dozens of these files, and oftentimes, I end up not using them.
However, they are important to the writing process. Why?
Because they tell me details I otherwise would’ve never learned.
You can discover a lot about your character in the smallest bursts of dialogue or action. Make a habit of writing down EVERYTHING.
The utmost terrifying concept is usually out of your control. It’s different when you can choose to face your fears.
Once you realize that you can’t control another person’s behavior, life becomes so much easier. This is especially true in writing. YOU control the story, not your characters. They do not know what’s coming to them the way you do.
Set another timer for ten minutes, and figure out what scares them in their core.
Whom (or what) are they terrified of losing?
Answer this for both the protagonist, and the antagonist.
Are they afraid of failure?
This ties back a teensy bit into yesterday’s lesson, because if they’re afraid to fail, how far are they willing to go to prevent that?
Revenge is a dish best served with fries.
We’ve all been in quarantine for a while now. You know for a fact: putting someone under pressure can reveal a lot. This extends to your characters. When they’re backed into a corner, it’s a learning opportunity for you as the writer, and them as the character.
How far is the protagonist willing to go to achieve their goal?
How far are they willing to go to stop the antagonist?
Flip these questions for your villains!
How far are they willing to go to stop the protagonist?
How far would they go for revenge?
You might be surprised by what you find out.
I’ve mentioned before that stories can’t exist without conflict – good, memorable stories, anyways.
Your character has to evolve, and if they’re comfortable, then they’re not changing.
Give yourself ten minutes, and make a list for your character. What is the most uncomfortable thing they could be asked to do? Why is it so uncomfortable specifically to them?
Actions speak louder than words.
The worst thing a writer can do is write something out of character. Unless there’s a purpose to the behavior, be careful.
Think about the backstory you gave your character. Think about their morals and values. What has been displayed so far in your story?
These answers will affect the choices your character makes.
A character who abides by the law won’t suddenly rob a bank – but what could make them?
There’s an episode of Black Mirror called Shut Up and Dance, and while it’s incredibly fucked up (as that whole show is), it’s an interesting look at “out of character” behavior. An unseen antagonist is forcing the hand of multiple people, because their morals have been compromised.
Imagine how that episode would change if a character had no morals.
Imagine the same for your story. Do the actions of your characters make sense? If you can’t tell me exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, you need to either dig deeper, or consider that the action isn’t in their character.