Use Theme to improve your NaNo writing

Theme is an important part of any story.

Choose your theme before beginning your NaNo project, and you’ll have an easier time editing.
Theme is an important component of any story. Make sure to consider theme when writing your NaNo novel to avoid adding it later.
What is theme? (I hear your 3rd grade-self moaning) I’ll save the Webster Dictionary meaning and tell you what you need to know for NaNo:

Theme is the single idea that holds the work together and makes it cohesive. Theme is internal, the thing that remains after plot, characters, and dialogue is stripped away. It’s what drives your character. He probably doesn’t know it. It’s the secret, secret reason that makes his decisions. Theme is the itch under his skin that blinds him to logic. It’s instinctive, protective and usually related to his childhood.

A partial list of themes you can use in your NaNo story:

• Ambition
• Betrayal
• Change versus tradition
• Chaos and order
• Character – destruction, building up
• Circle of life
• Coming of age
• Common sense
• Competition
• Courage
• Communication – verbal and nonverbal
• Convention and rebellion
• Dangers of ignorance
• Darkness and light
• Death – inevitable or tragedy
• Desire to escape
• Destruction of beauty
• Disillusionment and dreams
• Displacement
• Duty
• Empowerment
• Everlasting love

There are many, many more. Google them. Choose one or two and give it to your main character. Give one to your villain.

Return to Theme

When you get stuck or your writing veers off into uncharted territory, return to theme to get back on track. When your hero needs to make a decision, return to theme.

In my NaNo novel, Red Riding Hood and the Big, Very Bad Wolf, Oliver’s theme is his need to prove himself. His father had a bad opinion of Oliver. Now his father is dead, leaving a crumbling kingdom to Oliver, who must fight disasters, angry subjects, one cute baker and another claimant to the throne to prove he’s better than he was brought up to believe.

Worthlessness doesn’t sound like a hero’s best quality, but if you twist it, arrogance becomes his flaw. Don’t tell him what to do when he’s been told what to do most of his life. He knows the best course, even when he’s clueless. He’s proving himself with every decision he makes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a disaster.

Only until he realizes why he acts the way he does can he begin to redeem himself and find true happiness.
On a side note, the villain should be anti-theme. In my case, the villain feels a sense of entitlement which puts him at odds with the protagonist.

Whatever you write for NaNo, choose a theme early. It will make your character’s choices easier, and it will solve a lot of editing headaches.

What is your theme?


For help with plotting, read my blog post on outlining:

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