Copyright 2017. Jennifer Phillips, Author. All rights reserved.
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Identifying and clarifying themes in a written work is sometimes confusing. But it also can be rewarding. Themes crystalize the story’s purpose. And they usually help us reflect on our own lives along with how we can change for the better or appreciate what we have. That’s the value of art and history!
Whether you’re the writer or the reader, identifying themes can take practice and sometimes persistence.
I’ve been struggling with portraying the main character in a particular picture book manuscript draft. Dialogue with my writing critique partners made me realize I needed to clarify the theme. That, in turn, is helping me clarify how I should write the main character.
A helpful approach is to say, “This work was about….” But don’t focus on the plotline, characters and such. Instead, fill in a larger “what” that summarizes underlying threads playing out. “This work was about how much you can want freedom but the hard choices that come when you get it….” Or, “this work had a lot in it about loneliness and craving love…”
Here are some common themes, from lists you can find on the web. This should get your thematic juices flowing: ambition, beauty, betrayal, courage, deception, faith, family, duty, fate, fear, fortune and misfortune, freedom, friendship, happiness, innocence and loss of it, jealousy, loneliness, love, loyalty, mystery, perseverance, person vs. nature (vs. society, vs. technology, etc.), prejudice, quests and journeys, revenge, sacrifice, suffering and truth.
Readers, pick up one of your favorite books and explore the themes. Writers, learn from my struggle and pause to reflect on the themes to help revitalize a troublesome draft!
I am journaling about my writing and submission experiences. My goal is to provide helpful, honest details and encouragement to kids, teachers, other writers and those considering the writing life. Feel free to send me questions through my contact page.
May 2017 Behind the Curtain Journal Entry:
The Value of Understanding Themes in Writing