Develop Themes for Your Story | Barbara Vance | Skillshare

Develop Themes for Your Story

Barbara Vance, Author, Illustrator

Develop Themes for Your Story

Barbara Vance, Author, Illustrator

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10 Lessons (1h 9m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. What Theme is and Why it Matters

    • 3. Thematic Statements

    • 4. Choosing and Planning Your Themes

    • 5. Building a Story Around a Theme

    • 6. Theme and Genre Fiction

    • 7. Connecting Theme and Character

    • 8. Symbolism and Motif

    • 9. Expressing Theme Through Dialogue

    • 10. Common Mistakes and Class Worksheet

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About This Class

This course is designed to help you develop meaningful, well-plotted themes in your stories that connect to the story events and the character. We will examine

  • What a theme is and why it is important to the story
  • How to develop thematic statements
  • Choosing and planning your themes
  • What to do if you know the theme you want to write about but don't have a story for it
  • Theme in genre fiction
  • Building theme through characters
  • Designing symbols and motifs
  • Working theme into dialogue

There are class notes and a worksheet associated with this class that will help you develop themes in your story. Please download it by going to the "Projects and Resources" tab under the video on the desktop/laptop version of Skillshare. You will find it and the class notes in the right-hand column. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Barbara Vance

Author, Illustrator



Barbara Vance is an author, illustrator and educator. She has a PhD in Narrative and Media, has taught storytelling and media production at several universities, and has spoken internationally on the power of storytelling and poetry. Barbara’s YouTube channel focuses on illustration and creative writing.

Her poetry collection, Suzie Bitner Was Afraid of the Drain, which she wrote and illustrated, is a Moonbeam Children’s Book winner, an Indie Book Award winner, and was twice a finalist for the Bluebonnet Award. Its poems are frequently used in school curricula around the world.

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1. Introduction: Hi, everyone. My name is Barbara Vans and welcome to this course all about How do you work theme into your stories? Very often, when we're coming up with what we want to right? We may have a character in mind or a plot in mind that we're really ready to get down on paper and explore. But stories that really last, the stories that you read and someone else reads and you can just talk about and talk about see from a variety of angles. The stories that tell you more about yourselves and the human condition as a reader has something more than just plot and character. They have themes. They have symbols and motifs that are woven into that plot and into those characters in a way that makes us take a larger message from your story. It's the difference between a story that will remember the rest of our lives and one that while we might have enjoyed it while we were reading it, it was more forgettable on entertaining. Plot is a wonderful thing, but we're often looking for more than that. When we watch a movie or read a play or a novel, we might not think that we are, but underneath we're feeling a connection. If you ask someone why they love to certain book or certain film, very often they'll they won't just say, Oh, I liked to the plot. They'll say they connected with a character or an idea or a situation. And in this way, stories, especially when they have themes, help us to process our own world. They help us to understand things and grapple with situations going on in our own lives. They help us to empathize with other people when we have a continuous theme throughout were able to do that in a more cohesive way, and it makes your story have a stronger message. But one of the best things that a theme can do is be something of a North star for your story. It's a navigation system that will help you decide what should be in my story and what shouldn't be when you're plotting out your novels and your movies. There are far more things going on in the character's life and in the the larger sequence of events, and you can possibly including your story, so you have to decide what do I include, And what don't I include and looking at? What are my themes is one of the best ways to determine what you put in and what you leave out. If you've chosen family as the primary theme of your story than every senior riding, you should be asking yourself, How does this scene add to that? How does this scene at that? If you find you're adding a lot of scenes about justice, then you might say I think I might be giving off track in my stories. Just a great way to keep your stories on track. Now, sometimes when we're writing, themes emerge, we don't know what they are were just riding our stories. And then we look back and we start to see these themes. But what can very often be helpful is when you arm or intentional in planning out what your themes are. So if you're a writer who likes to plan before you right then, considering your themes is absolutely port of that planning stage for you. So this course is all about helping you develop a meteor more memorable story to that end will not only be looking at what theme is. But how thing relates to the plot? How theme relates to the characters. How theme relates to symbolism. How you specifically, once you've chosen your themes, manifest them in your story. I hope the sounds of interest. If it does, I will see you in the next video. 2. What Theme is and Why it Matters: all right, before we begin just a couple of thoughts. If you watched any of my courses before, you know, I believe in guidelines, not rules, anything. Any time you find a rule about writing, I assure you there is a great example of literature that totally breaks that rule. So these are guidelines to help you, but don't get stuck on the rules. The other thing that I would say, is that while this course is about planning your themes, and I think that's a very helpful thing to do, don't get so hung up on it and called upon it that you can't write your stories. If you get stuck on that, don't stop. That's part of what people get into the issue with With writer's block. Keep going, right your story. A bit brainstorm. Think about plot, and then you can come back to thinking about your themes. It isn't uncommon for a theme to sort of emerge in your first draft or so when you're writing a novel or a screenplay, you're writing more than one draft. So if you don't feel ready to think about your theme, if you if you're like Gosh, I just don't know. I know what my story is. I know what my characters are, but I'm still not sure. After this course about themes. Don't stress about it. Work on your story. And as you do that, keep these lessons in mind. You will probably start to see a theme emerged then. When you go back on your second draft, you can really think about how you're going to be intentional putting theme into your stories. I do have cast notes for you to download for this course, and I think it will help you so much. If you have those in front of you as we proceed, it's going to enumerate a lot of the specifics that we'll talk about in this course. So it's good for you to have them in front of you. If you haven't downloaded those, please take a moment to take a pause and go over and download them. If you're not sure where they are, please read the course description because it will tell you where to find them. Very often. If someone asks us, Oh, what's your story about? We might say something like, Well, it's about a very wealthy girl who goes off to a boarding school, and then her father dies and she becomes a poor per. So that's the surface level action. If you've watched my plot 101 cores or any of my plotting courses, you know that there is a service action. That's the literal action that's going on. But then there's a story under that. There's an understory that understory is more about the character transformations. It's what the story is really about. And this is also true of themes. Themes is what your story is really about. So, for example, in a little princess, the surface plot is that a wealthy girl goes off to a boarding school. Her father dies, she becomes a pauper. And she is now at the mercy of a very unkind, unfeeling, um, the woman who runs the boarding school who absolutely hates her. But the part itself. If I would say, What's the story really about what the story is about, what it means to be a lady, and if that's connected to wealth, or if that comes from something else? It's a story about that. Here we have a woman teaching young women how to be ladies there's a girl who she deals with when she is wealthy. But once this girl becomes a popper, Miss mentioned, the woman running the boarding school is absolutely terrible to her. Miss Mention doesn't behave like a lady at all throughout many ports of this story, while Sarah is a lady when she's wealthy and she is a lady when she's not. So this is all about what it means to be a lady, what it means to be someone who has royalty. What is royalty? Is royalty about money? Where's royalty demeanor? It's all about behavior and status. That's what the story is really about and those other themes of a story. Let's look at another example, and please forgive me if I look down. I do teach from notes. In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, someone might say, Well, what's your story about? And the author might say, Oh, it's about a girl growing up in the South Now that's very surface level, right? That is a service level statement. It's a girl growing up in the South, but that actually doesn't tell me very much. As a reader, I don't know the plot from that I know this character, and I know where she is, but that doesn't tell me much. So then you might get more specific with how you try to describe your story. And you might say, Well, is a girl growing up in the South whose father defends a man on trial? Now you've told me more. You've told me there's a girl. Tell me where they are and you've told me this thing that's happening or fall this defending a man in a trial. But that still doesn't really hint at what's the story about? So that's try a little bit more detailed synopses of To Kill a Mockingbird. See if we can't get more what it's really about. We could say that it's about a girl whose world views are challenged when she faces the racism of her town as her father defends a black man wrongly accused of rape. Now I really have a sense of what's going on. I can read this and I know the service story. It's about a girl in the South. There's a trial, her father's defending a black man who's accused of rape. But it also tells me the undercurrents. This story I can tell from that description that this is a book about race. This is a book about human rights. This is about family. There is in that description, a universality off topics that I can connect with and relate to and understand that here is the depth and the meat of that story. Even if you write your stories first and you put theme into them after that first draft, your story is about themes or stories about universal experiences. These are the things that make your Regis connect with your characters and with your plot. Much of the problem is that people often think of theme as an add on there, like All right, I wrote my story. I have my characters now. I've just got a sort of throws and theme in there, and then we'll be good. That's not how it works. Thing needs to be interconnected. You can't plot your novel and your characters properly without your themes. In the end of the day, it must be woven into the heart of it. If you're having trouble thinking about what you want, your theme to be, always remember this. The theme is a bit of the Why why are you writing this story? What is the message you're trying to send? If the plot answers the who, what, where? When, off your story. The theme answers the Why. What's the purpose? What's the meaning behind the story you're trying to tell? Sometimes when we write a theme, it includes a very distinct moral that we're trying to pass along to our readers a very distinct lesson that we're trying to get them to learn. But lest you fear that you are going to run into something very didactic when you do writing, know that themes don't necessarily mean you're incorporating some hard and fast moral into your story. For example, you could have a story about family, and you could have in that numerous aspects of families and what families look like and what makes a good family. And in the end, it could still be somewhat nebulous, toothy reader, or that there are such nuanced aspects of family that it leaves readers debating about what was a good family and what looked good and who had the best family situation. You don't have to have a hard and fast moral if you've ever watched the film Casablanca. One of the themes and Casablanca is luck. People talk about luck all through that story, but the filmed itself doesn't offer us some kind of moral or rule about luck. You have people who say I make my own luck. You have people who don't believe in luck. You have people who think things are random, all kinds of things. But there isn't some sort of definitive moral about luck. So to don't worry that you're going to necessarily run that direction, You don't have to be that moralizing as you write the. 3. Thematic Statements: Now, when we think about theme, there are really two components to it. There is the the thematic idea that's very general abroad. And then there's the thematic statement, which is you as the author, what you are trying to say about that theme. Now, if you read articles or books or things that they talk about, the ah lot of people will address theme and story as the thematic statement. So don't get hung up on those terminologies. But I want you to understand that there is a difference because I think it helps you in the planning off your themes. So for the purposes of this class, I want you to think about theme as a central idea that's discussed in the book separate from any kind of commentary that us the author on making about that beam to go back to To Kill a Mockingbird. Themes in that book include education, social equality, racism, bravery, the law. All of those things are thematic throughout that story, but those are broad, you know to say this is a book with a theme about racism that in and of itself doesn't say my commentary about racism. You then have to go in to find what that IHS well, that's helpful to you down the road as we will see to be able to break it down that way. Now the thematic statement is what gets closer to a moral. But again, you don't have to moralize as you do this, but it's a message that you want readers to take away from your story. So how do you feel about race? You know, the to kill a Mockingbird? Certainly you don't walk away from that book thinking that racism is a good thing. You walk away with this idea that racism is certainly can be connected to a lack of education. But it doesn't have to be because we see people who are very educated to a racist, and we see people who are not educated, who are racist. We see the damage that racism does to Children, to societies, to families. So we're looking at a very specific lens of the awfulness that racism is. That's her commentary on it. One of the most important things you want to remember about your themes is it is far less about what you put off onto your readers to believe it's four less about you just pressing at them, saying, This is what I believe. This is what's right and it's farm or about drawing, drawing those feelings out of the reader. And you do that by letting them experience experience this story and learn lessons from that, just like we would in life if when we were Children. Our parents always said, Don't do that, Do this, Don't do that, Do this. What does a child do? A child gets rebellious. A child gets frustrated. A child says, I'm going to do it my way. I don't care what you say Children and adults, people at all ages. But we have to learn things for ourselves. We have to go through an experience and say, Oh, that didn't work And then we try something new. This is what you want to do with your readers. Rather than saying racism's bad races and spat show them how racism was damaging over here . Show them how racism damage something over here. Show them how racism can be as much for someone who's wealthy as someone who is poor. Let them experience the consequences of racism through your story. This is what makes it engaging. This is what makes the reader feel like they come. They came to conclusions themselves. That's what you want to weave into and build into your story. Now, when it comes to quantity of themes, you can have more than one theme. Many, many stories do, but usually there is one or two predominant themes in the book. If you have too many things going on at once that you're trying to all keep it the same level, it gets to be too much. It's just too much happening in the soup, and then people can taste the individual flavors in the next video. I want us to look at How do you actually go about choosing themes for your stories? 4. Choosing and Planning Your Themes: when it comes to choosing themes for your stories, the first thing I want you to remember is that your theme doesn't have to be original. I have seen so many people torment themselves to come up with some kind of original theme. But the truth is that those great universal themes are the best, their universal and lasting. And they turn up in literature along the time for a reason. What's going to make your story unique is your take on that theme, your voice, your characters, your plot. There are countless stories of love winds love you. Love triumphs. That's a theme. It's a theme in a lot of works, and they're wonderful. We don't get tired of love triumphs theme. And those stories can seem as different as night and day to one another because of the characters, because of the way the story is told because of the authority voice. So don't worry so much that you don't feel you have a totally unique theme. Now, as I've mentioned, there are various ways to go about finding the themes for your stories. If you're feeling pressure, especially after you've read a bit about it and thought on it and watched this course, and you still just don't really know what themes you want for your story, as I mentioned, Don't get caught up on that. Go ahead, work on your characters, work on your plot. But keep these lessons in the back of your head and start to try to. I didn't make, you know, make identification, make connections across your characters and across events that happen in your plot. Because very often, even if you have some of these questions that will go over in the back of arm in the back of your head as you're riding, you'll start to go. Ah ha! That's a theme, so that's one way to do it. But what I want to focus on for most of this class is actually what you would do if you were taking more time to plan your theme out in advance. If you know your character or your story and you have a strong sense of that, but you're not sure about your theme, there are specific questions that you can ask yourself to help sort of find your way, and I'd like to go through those now and the first question that you can ask yourself is simply what is the lesson that you want people to take from the story? Very often, you have something that you want to say, even if you haven't necessarily thought about it. If you take a little bit of time to sit down. And if you think about the events of your plot that there's there's very often a lesson there. If you have been writing Lord of the Rings And you said, Well, my you know my stories about this hobbit with this seemingly impossible mission to get a bring two more door and throw it in and save, you know, save the world, Um, that is the surface of this story. But if you were to look at your view plot points as you went through out that story, you say When you know this, this story is actually quite a lot about heroism on what it means to be a hero and is a hero necessarily someone with a big sword. Or could a hero be a little hobbit who doesn't believe he can do it? That that's a theme in that story is very strong one so you can generally start to identify things when you look at those. So consider what you what you see when you're writing these things, where where are the lessons you're seeing as your story goes? Or if you're writing characters, you generally? No. This is my protagonist, and I gave her these traits that I think our character strengths. And I gave her these things that I think our character weakness is. Well, why do you think those things are weaknesses? What are you trying to say by giving her those weaknesses? What are you trying to say? By giving her those strengths? You know, it's a matter of questioning the decisions that you made for plot and character. Why did I give those things? Why? What was I trying to say in making those choices for my plot and my characters? This is one of the best questions you can ask to find your theme because you're already doing all of that character and plot development. So it's just a matter of sort of getting meta on yourself and watching your decisions and why you're doing them. The other question that you can ask yourself is What is the emotion that you want the readers to take away from this story? Do you want your readers to be hopeful in glad and full of of optimism at the end of the story? Do you want them to feel sad? You know, And this doesn't go for this story is a whole. It can go for a specific seen. What do you want the reader to feel at the end of this scene? Or at the end of that scene? Northey End of this chapter. When I want my reader to feel tense, I want my reader to feel sad. Okay, well, why? Why do you want them to feel tense? If you've just had a girl who failed her test and she's trying to get into university? You're saying something there. You're saying something about that. If you had a girl who's having a fight with her mother and they've had a terrible row and the girls now often her room and she's debating, crawling up the window and running away, what are you saying about family? Your Are you telling me family's important family is not important? Well, that's going thio and shouldn't be related to the emotion if you want your region to feel sad that they had a fight. Then you're telling me that you think family is very important and that it's a shame when it isn't working out. But if your messages families actually not necessary family isn't about blood relations, it's about other things. Then you might have a different emotion. You want the region to feel so always be asking yourself, Why am I making the choices that I'm making? And what is the emotion that I want the reader to feel? It's very helpful to have sort of a list of universal themes in front of you. There are many available online for you, but just to run through a few. So you understand the things we're talking about. Some of the most universal themes in literature include love, Death, good versus evil. Trust and trust could be a lot of things. Trust could be coming of age coming of age. Stories are often about trust, trusted of the people, trusting yourself, trusting the unknown. So each of these universal themes we are looking at has a lot of nuance, a lot of potential sub themes or takes on that theme that you could go and use power and corruption, survival, courage and heroism, prejudice, war, individual versus society. Fear, responsibility, redemption all of these or universal themes that you could think about including. And so, if you are not sure what you want, the themes to be for your story, just go online. Google List of Universal Themes There are loads and read through them because chances are some will really strike it your heart very quickly and you'll see. Ah, yes, my story is about that. The other thing that you can do when you're looking at those universal themes, it sort of start to tease out, you know, pick several. Don't let yourself be brought to be like, Well, my stories about love. But it's also about courage, and it's also about bravery, and it's also about survival. It's also about power. I mean, you might very well find that you feel like a lot of those themes hitter story. So in that case, just choose those start brought. That's all right. But then, when you have that list of themes, say you chose 10 tends an awful lot for your story. But say you chose 10. Start there and then you'll put those into columns, and there's a worksheet to help you do this. But you put those into columns, and then under it, you'll say, All right, how and where does Love show up? How and where does power and corruption show up? We'll start to write these things down. As you write them down. You will. Actually, you'll find you'll get brain stroll ideas for your plots in your characters. But you'll also find that some are weightier than others that some you have more to say about than others. And when you do that, those natural ones that are your most important themes can very well emerge. Additional questions that you will want to ask to help find thes themes And again, all of these questions in the chart. There are many ways to go about finding the themes of your stories, so this class is designed to offer you, ah, variety of ways to come at this. Some work better for some. Some work better for others. You'll find some of these questions you have lots to say about. You'll find other questions. You really don't have much to say. That's all right. Just work through them and see which ones work for you and help inspire you in the themes that you want to write. One helpful question to ask is, Why do you want to tell this story now? This is different than the lesson. You want to read it to take away the why is what made you want to tell this story. What made you want to tell an adventure story about a girl on a new planet, you know, and often you'll find that it wasn't just Oh, well, I think you know, science fiction is interesting. You're like, Well, I've dealt with difficulties in my life with survival and getting by and feeling like I don't have the resources. And so to write this was sort of a creative and fantasy way to address what it feels like to survive in real life in the life that we're living. Well, that sort of statement right there tells you what your thickness your theme is about survival in your writing it because you think survival can be hard but doable, and you really can't survive if you don't find some other people to help you or whatever your lessons are but asking yourself, Why do I want to write? This will very often help you come up with what your theme is. Another question that can help you is simply asking what you think are the most important things in life and why some of these questions are really just about getting to know yourself better. Because when you know your own values and your own beliefs, you often find that those air exactly things that you're writing into your stories. So what do you value the most? What do you think makes like the most worthwhile? And why do you think that you can also ask yourself the same sort of question about virtues ? What do you think are the best, most virtuous traits a person can have And why do you think them? And what do you think society devalues the most in virtues? Not just what virtues do you think are the most important, but which ones do you think society ignores? Because very often there's a gap there, and you're trying to send a message about that in your writing. What do you think? The best strengths a person can have are and what are the worst vices, and that is different than virtues, because the strength could be, I'm great at running. That's not a virtue. If you're not sure about virtues and strengths, I have courses on character, strengths and character values and beliefs. Both of those actually get into differences between virtues and strengths, and I recommend to those. You could also ask yourself that if you could change the world and make it a better place, what would you change? And the last question you can ask that will help you immensely is just what issues, whether their political, social, religious, all kinds. But what issues most. Touch your heart most. Get under your skin and bother you. It could be things like child welfare, the environment, infidelity, homelessness, politics, human rights, all kinds of things. But what are the issues that most get under your skin and you want to find answers to? Okay, so now, having reflected a bit on the sorts of questions you can ask yourself when you know your story and you know your characters, but you don't know your themes. Let's take just a brief moment and talk about how you go about finding your story and your characters if you rather know what your things are, 5. Building a Story Around a Theme: when you know something that you want to write about. But you don't yet have characters of stories flushed out to do so. One of the most helpful things that you can do is come up with sort of a map and outline a mind map for yourself in which you just do a lot of brainstorming about those themes. So what you want to do is sort of go OK, I know what my theme is or no, it. My themes are now now just start to go. How could this be manifesting itself brains from all kinds of situations? If you generally know a character you have in mind, put that character in different situations. If you're exploring the theme of family, say, well, how would I explore that theme of my character? Had a big family? What if my character didn't really have a family? How would she feel then? Put your character in a lot of different situations As they relate to that theme, You might have just bits of dialogue that pop into your head, each things that very abstract, you might think of a setting that you're suddenly like well, that that's setting people that people around a table at Thanksgiving. That's very that's very family to me or whatever it is, you're going to get lots of random ideas. She's want to put those down. Get those down. You'll start to see, um, connections emerging. When you do, you'll start to winner these things out. But first, just sort of get them down on a brainstorming page on a mind map, where you can then start to go, passing them out further. So if you're starting very broadly and you all you know is I want to write about family, then you want to ask yourself things like, Well, what do I want to say about family? What's my opinion about family? And then you want to look at what those opinions are and take them, and then you want to construct characters who embody that theme or whose behaviors or life situations address that being. So if you're writing a story about family, you might have a character who has a large, warm, conversational, happy family, and you might write enough person who was an only child and his family doesn't talk and they don't communicate, but they love each other. But they don't talk, they don't communicate. You might write a character who's an orphan and doesn't have a family and doesn't understand what that is because they've not experienced it. You might right people who are independent and feel like they don't need family and other people who rely on family too much. So what are all the kinds of characters you could use to say something about family? You won't necessarily use them all, but you're just brainstorming at this point. Ways characters could manifest family in a story. Once you've done this, you want to, then go in and you know Honan of the ideas that mean the most to you, the characters who stand out the most to you and then start to construct a plot around them . Plot is all about characters encountering obstacles and overcoming them. So when you're thinking about what the obstacles for your character would be, you want to say, what are the obstacles that relate somehow to family? And it doesn't necessarily always have to be something totally obvious, like Okay, well, all my obstacles have to be when protagonist dealing with our family members or something, no, it could be other obstacles, but they still somehow come in contact with family. For example, if you have a character who has that big, joyful family and she has a job, she's really trying to get ahead on her job. So she starts to not be able to attend family events, which impacts her relationship with her family. Now she is having to navigate and learn a new way of being a member of her family. It's all right for her, in your authority perspective, to want this job and to work at this job and to pull away a little bit. But you don't want to ignore your family. So here we have a protagonist whose learning through the plot through maybe pulling away too much or through maybe pulling away not enough and missing opportunities, or through you know how getting a boyfriend and spending time with her and not with the sisters anymore. Whatever through these experiences, you have a character who's learning what it means to re negotiate and find her relationship with her family. That's why knowing that theme in advance can be so helpful with your plot. So that's a way for you to sort of start going about thinking of your theme and then working that into a story in the next video, I want to touch briefly on genre fiction and themes. 6. Theme and Genre Fiction: another great way to come up with themes for your stories is simply to consider the genre fiction that you are writing now. If you're riding a more literary style, the world is your oyster, all kinds of themes in literary. But when it comes to genre, very often, by definition, genre addresses certain kinds of themes. There are many lists out there that will tell you up it about the kinds of things that you find in different genres. So you want to make sure you understand the rules, the ins and outs of the genre in which you are writing because that will help you sort of provide you with a list of themes that will really suit your genre well, for examples sake, a romance genre often has themes that are about love, friendship, intimacy, human connection, whereas something like a Western is very much about freedom and survival, good versus evil, right versus wrong War stories are very often about courage, honor, safety, survival. So those are just the frequent themes that come up in those genres that's going to really help you narrow things down for your stories. So I recommend taking a look at those lists, so your story might not fit into a genre. But if it does take advantage of that, you are not being boring. Adhering to your genre. That's the whole point off genre fiction. In the next video, I want us to talk about theme and developing your characters. 7. Connecting Theme and Character: as we mentioned earlier. Theme is so deeply connected to your character, your character's arc, your character's development. So it is very important that you take the time to understand how your character is growing in relation to the themes you choose when you build your character arc in relation to your theme. That's one of the great ways that you really intimately connected the character to the plot . So, for example, Casablanca, you want to think about your characters and think about that, Arc. Say you have someone like Rick from Casablanca and he's bitter. He's resentful. He's looking out only for himself. He's at a troubled, frustrating experiences in the past, relating to love. And that's forced. That's made him sort of just locked himself inside of himself and not really care about with people. That kind of character lends itself to themes of sacrifice and someone who has a need for human interaction and love. Ah, theme of letting go of the past. And so you have to say, Well, look at my character. Look at that arc. Thes are themes that I see in that. So let me think about developing those themes through his character arc. When you plan your stories in that fashion, you will find that developing your themes is totally connected to developing your characters, and vice versa. So how do you go about choosing the best themes for your characters? Several ways you can look at your characters goals. So in that situation, what she'll do is just sit down. You will list your characters core goals, their motivations for this story. Now Inrix cases things like keeping to himself, earning a lot of money on surviving. That's those are his goals at the beginning of that story. So what are my characters? Goals. You then want to list themes that connect with those goals. So you know his goal is earning money. So themes about what money buys you or what money doesn't buy you would matter. Survival. What does it mean to survive? What does it mean to live? You know what? Keeping to yourself. It's better to keep to yourself. Or is it better to be vulnerable and have relationships? All of those types of themes are connected to your characters goals, so you want to look at a character's goals. You also want to look at a character's floors because our flaws are as a character, one of the things that we're grappling with throughout the story. Yes, you want your character have strengths, and that's great. But that's not what makes an interesting story. What makes it interesting story is a character who has to overcome obstacles, physical obstacles, but obstacles also within himself that he's battling through inside of himself, and he must overcome those obstacles inside of himself if he wants to overcome the obstacles out there in the world. So you want to also think about your your characters flaws. How your character changes is what's going to be deeply connected to the thematic statement off your story. When you think of the story, pride and Prejudice, you think of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Dorsey, both of whom have their prejudices but Elizabeth Bennet, in particular, thinking that Mr Dorsey's prejudice. But she's not. And, of course, then she has to go through experiences to learn that she indeed has prejudices of her own and what prejudices are and how to see them. So, through Elizabeth Bennet finding her way internally, we have this story's main theme itself. To that end, there are specific questions that you can ask related to that character arc related to the overcoming that your character house to do that will help you discover and write your themes. These include just asking Who is my character at the beginning of the story? Because again, if you've watched any of my character developing courses and in fact, I have a character course all about writing a character arc that I recommend watching if you've not watched that if you watch this course and then you watch that course that's going to really help you craft not only a great character but themes that go along with that character. But you want to know who is your character at the beginning of the story because we want your character to change. So who is she at the beginning of the story, then you want to know what? How do the story events that are happening shape my character for better or for worse? Sometimes a story event makes our character take a step back. Our characters don't always do the right things, so how does my how, to my plot events shape my character, turning them into a better person? or a worst person. In some ways. What are my characters? Strengths. Because you're themes can also address character strengths and saying, Look, there was this very noble person. I think nobility is a good thing. See how his being noble resulted in these other good things? That's port of it. What flaws in your character houses we talked about. What are my characters values and the lies that my character believes your character floors are directly connected to the lies that your character believes. If you have not watched my characters floors course or my course on character values and beliefs, both of these courses will get into this. But our characters make bad decisions because there are things they believe that aren't true. And when you know what those are fat will help you find your thematic statement. If, for example, Frode oh, photo is given a ring and he's gonna try to get it to mortal. But in truth, in the beginning, he doesn't know that he can do it. He thinks I'm just a hobbit. I can't I can't get the ring to mortar. That's a lie. That photo believes. And what does he find? He finds. Actually, no, you can. You can get it to more door Rick in Casablanca says and believes. You know, if you are vulnerable, you're just going to get hurt. And it's better to live, not in relationship with people and not get hurt. But what does he learn? No, it's better to be vulnerable and to get hurt. That that hurt makes you more full human being. So what lies that your character believes? Just a You want to know who your character was at the beginning of the story? You want to know your characters in the end of the story, because that's what's going to change. Rick goes from being who's very someone who's very closed off to someone who is open to relationships, skin emotionally vulnerable again and because of those things willing to go fight for people again. So what? What are you saying in that story you're saying? Well, it's better to be emotionally vulnerable. And when you do that, you actually make yourself more available to help the world, to help people and to live a fuller life. So again you find your theme by looking at this character arc. When you look at your character. The end of the story. You want to ask yourself, What does my character gained or lost? What has Rick gained? He has gained personal relationships. He's gained a stronger sense of mission. He's lost their depression that he's had. He's lost some of his, you know, armor that he's put up around himself. He also loses his love and has to live with some heartache again over that. But there's a pride in it. He's also found his love again because he has understood better. Why she made certain decisions she made that hurt him. So what is my character gained or lost? When you start to delve into these nuanced questions, you will find the meaning and the themes that emerged for you. Another way that you can look to characters to find Theme is to look at a character's once and the characters needs. Characters have both wants and needs often in a story. Sometimes those things are the same, but very often they are different. In Casablanca. Rick wants to make money. He wants to be left alone. He wants to just stay where he is and make a profit off of people What he needs to be a more full human being is to become emotionally vulnerable, to forgive, to open himself up again and to stop thinking justice of himself. And in this way, what you see when you identify a character's wants, and then what a character actually really should have and needs. You will see that the once arm or of the plot the wants are things that the characters grabbing for to move forward with the plot. But the needs the needs are your theme. This is a story about a man who needs to forgive, who needs to be vulnerable, who needs to care about other people and not just himself, to get over his depression. That's what that's what this story is really about. So look at your characters, wants and your character's needs, and that will also help you come up with themes again, just a variety of different ways that you can go about trying to discover what your themes are. You find what works for you, and everything we're talking about here is Justice Jermaine for your protagonist, as it is for your other characters. If you have a theme about forgiveness, then show me numerous characters who embody or act upon the concept of forgiveness in different ways. That's what makes a story rich. Not when you just give me one character with one perspective about forgiveness. It's when I see different fasts of forgiveness, different interpretations of forgiveness, different kinds of forgiveness manifested in your story, through different characters and through different plot points and plot events. That's what makes this notion of forgiveness nuanced. And this is in part what will keep you from having a didactic moralizing plot. Because I'm seeing all the nuances of the concept of forgiveness even while you as an author have an overarching lesson. You're trying to teach me about forgiveness. I'm seeing a lot of nuance in the forgiveness, and that's what makes me go well. It's a little bit of this, and it's a little bit of that, and I'm not sure if I agree with this and I think forgiveness. A little bit of that, you get to these discussions with your friends over a book in the big Aha. But you remember that scene and Chapter two. That's the kind of thing you get into when you start toe. We've the thing into all of your characters. So you want to go through things that we're talking about with all of your characters, even your minor characters. You have to spend as much time on them, but you should know how they're embodying that theme. All right, in the next video, I want to touch on symbolism and motif as they relate to your theme. 8. Symbolism and Motif: very often as we are writing, we also have symbols or motifs that occur in our riding, and those things connect with our theme. So I wanted to take just a little bit of time to touch on those to make sure that you're reading those properly into your stories. It can very often be helpful once you've chosen. What's your theme? Is 22 symbols to choose motifs? Choose something that represents that theme. You don't necessarily have to do that, but this actually really will help you in the writing of your stories so it can be a person . It can be an object you think of Lord of the Rings. There's this theme of power and you have this ring. This ring represents power. It represents a corrupting force in the world. So that's one way to think about it. In To Kill a Mockingbird. There's a theme of innocence, and that's the theme of the Mockingbird. So while the mockingbird itself, we don't see mocking birds like flying around the story. But the mockingbird is a symbol of innocence, and we learn that through dialogue in the story briefly, what's the difference between a symbol and a motif. A symbol is something that can be shown just once. It might just be this one thing. That's a symbol in your writing. It shows up one time, you know, arose, that represents time or something, and decaying roads represents time. We see it. It's a symbol for something. But if I just show up once in your story, ah, motif. It's a recurring element in your story, And that motif could be something like on image. It could be something like a rose. Rose Rose is might just turn up again and again in your story. You think of the film American Beauty in the In That Rose is really sort of represented. His wife. They reminded him of his wife when she was young. And so roses kind of turn up and turned up in the story. So motif can be something like that. It could be a phrase that comes up again and again. It could be a situation people continually find themselves in. So, you know, you might have someone who is going through numerous trials. He's on trial. He goes to one trial, goes to another trial. He's being judged to left and right is being judged by people he's on trial with. He's judged by his family because there, you know they don't like his behavior. He is judged by his brother. All these forms of judgment without that becomes motif because it's a situation in which a man constantly finds himself being judged in this story. So it's something that is turning up again and again and again. And your work sometimes a motif is something very broad and overarching. If you think of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire seasons play into that, so much is kind of winter spring thing that he has going on in those. It's very broad kind of theme, But some themes and motifs are smaller there, more nuanced. They're more seemingly trivial. And that could be just something like, You know, if you've ever watched the Looney Tunes with The Road Runner and The Coyote, where the Road Runner always gets the best of the coyote. Somehow that's a motif. We just know it's going to happen. The coyote is going to try something, and instead of hurting the road runner, he's going to hurt himself. That's a motif in that cartoon symbolism and even motif. But a symbol of something is a way of using on object or an entity or a person to represent something much broader. So if you think of say example for a fairy tale, the woods in a fairy tale often represents something very like mystery and what's going on like when we get to the woods. Suddenly, we're not sure it's all mysterious. You know, if you're in the town, it's not. Get to the woods like what happens. The woods is sort of the wilderness as it were. If you think back to The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald puts a lot of symbolism and motif into his writing, the Great Gatsby being no exception. And if you remember that story, there's that green light that's at the end of the Buchanans doc, and it's much more than just a green light for for Gatsby. He sees that green light, and he's thinking off wealth. He's thinking of society being a member of society, the American dream, which he imposes all of those beliefs, in fact, right onto Daisy Buchanan. But But that's with the green life. Who Green light ISS. It's a motive in the story because the green light keeps coming up. But it's also a symbol in the story because it represents something else. Four Jay Gatsby said. You see the difference. The green light in The Great Gatsby. It comes up again and again we see the green light. He notices the green light so and so sold a green light green light green light. It comes up a lot. Fat makes it a motif, just literally seeing the green light without it representing anything at all. Just a motif because it keeps coming up. But it's also a symbol because for Gatsby it represents that American dream. It represents wealth, status, all of these things that he's been working to achieve. So in that book, the green Light serves the function both of motif and of simple now repeating motif can certainly b assemble if it's something that is representing something else. So if the woods keep coming up in my story, but you're using the woods to represent the wilderness and mystery and the place where you go where there are no rules, then what your motives is also a symbol. So it's up to you Sometimes you'll just have motifs that you think are are pretty or interesting, and you just want them in your story. Sometimes you want symbols, but these are the things that make your story feel cohesive throughout. It isn't just that you have a great character and a plot, although that's essentially you can't do without it. But also it's all these nuanced little decisions that we see these through threads happening. And that's what makes your story feel connected and rich. And that's what makes your viewers or your readers want to delve into this meat you've given them and say, What's going on here? What do I think of all of these nuanced ideas? So how do you go about developing these symbols and these motifs in your writing? I have some questions you ask, True to form, the first thing that you want to think about is the theme. What is the theme that your symbol represents? So we've ordered been talking about themes. You know what your themes are when you choose your symbols? How do those symbols relate to your theme? They should be connected so you don't want to just choose a random symbol it should connect back to your theme. You also want to think about the form of that symbol. Is that symbol an object? Is it a person? Is it the weather isn't setting? What form is your symbol taking? What's the significance off that symbol? Some symbols are more important than others in a story That's all right. They shouldn't all be on the same level. Just like if you were baking something, you would put in exactly the same amount of spices off every kind of spice. You'd have more sugar, you'd have less. You know, salt, you have different levels of your your spices with. The same is true for your story. So you know how important is this symbol? Is it a symbol only for the protagonist in the case of The Great Gatsby or American Beauty , where the roses really are symbol for the protagonist, The green light is really a symbol for Jay Gatsby. He sees it as something or is it just a symbol that sort of represents the overarching world in the case of, say, Lord of the Rings, That ring is a symbol for everyone. It's not just that photo sees it a certain way. Everyone does. So you want to think again? What is the theme that my symbol represents? What's the form that it takes its significance or who it applies to? You also want to look at the frequency of that symbol. Is it something that you can show once? Or is it something you want to make into more of a motif and show numerous times in? The last question you want to ask yourself is the timing. When you choose for that symbol to appear matters, does it appear at the right times for me to connect it to the theme it's associated with When you look at The Great Gatsby? Jay Gatsby looks at the green light and notices the green light at specific moments when he has just interacted with Daisy, where he's talking with Nick Carraway about his dreams about his goals. He might be dialoguing about loving Daisy or this or that, and then we see the green light. We're not going to be able to make the connections between your themes and your symbols. If you don't do that, if Jay Gatsby, whenever he talks about his American dream or if he's looking off into the green light of whatever we see the green light. Then we're going to know Cream Light American Dream Green Light American Dream If the American dream, if you pick that the green light should show up is the American dream, and we start seeing the green light in a scene with Daisy, where Jay Gatsby is not even around, then we're not going to say that's a symbol that for Jay Gatsby, and we're not going to say that's necessarily the American dream. You need to specifically focus it, for It's like a light, you know when you're focusing it on the right thing. So you have to choose when you're going to show that symbol. So again, as you designed your symbols in your motives with the theme there attached to the form, it will take the significance or who it's important to the frequency of it. And when you time it into your plot, if you think about all of those things, you will, really, we've that in. Well, now, when it comes to trying to brainstorm what those symbols are, the world is your oyster, but you can look at the real world things like like stop signs or close. You know, read often means love, or it often means blood and violence. Stop signs means something specific. Look at the emojis on your phone symbols means certain things. You can use those symbols in your story, but you can also come up with your own symbols and and sort of a brainstorm, things that are unique to you. The green light in The Great Gatsby That was something very specific to that story. It made it very interesting. So you're welcome to just daydream things that you choose to make a symbol for yourself. Now, if you choose to make a symbol specifically for your story with the thing you want to avoid is telling me you're like, OK, the green light means the American dream. Don't do that. If you have to do that in your story, you have not written that symbol well into your story. People will feel that they won't resonate with them, so you need to leave it in. You need to not tell me what that symbol means. You need to work it into your plot to your characters in your dialogue. All right. In the next video, let's look at working theme into our stories through character dialogue 9. Expressing Theme Through Dialogue: one of the best ways that you can explore theme in your stories is actually through the dialogue your character has with other characters and again, to be very clear, this doesn't mean that Oh, I'll just have my characters. Tell me what something is, what the theme is. No, you don't want your characters doing that. It just wants to be a natural thing that we learned. So your characters cannot sort of sideways. Preach to your reader through dialogue. You don't want that. And what you also don't want is your characters to sort of mimic your opinion about a theme . As we mentioned, your characters should all have different perspectives about a theme so that we get lots of ideas of different takes on that theme. So make sure that you're having the variety there. When you do the style off. When it comes to actually writing the dialogue, there are seven components of it that will make it meaningful will make it helpful to you. So when you're thinking about your dialogue scenes, you want to think first and foremost. Of course, what's the topic of the dialogue? What are they talking about? And then you want to say All right. Jay Gatsby's talking to Nick Carraway about Daisy Buchanan. You want to say, What is the information that is revealed from the dialogue? We learn things about Jay Gatsby. He talks with Nick Carraway. We learn about Jay Gatsby's background. We learned about the things that he really wants. We also learned about his personality, the way he talks and the things that he says We get a stronger sense of who he is, just by virtue of some of the opinion said he has. So we learn about Jay Gatsby frequently from these and his outlook on life when he's talking with Nick Carraway. We also learned how Nick perceives this relationship with Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Because, of course, that that's the main relationship that's happening. Nick Carraway, He's are now return. He's observing this, but really the conflict relationships happening between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. So we're seeing Knicks sort of interpretation and perspective of those things. So we're learning as much about Nick in many ways as we are about J or about Daisy. So then you might want to say, OK, what's the topic? That talking about what we learn from this discussion. You also want to know the point of views about the characters and how they feel about that topic, which is sort of what I was saying they might be talking about. For example, they might be talking about money. Does money matter? You know what? What does money get? You say That's the subject of conversation. They're going to have different prospectus about that. Jay Gatsby is going to say, Well, money really matters. It's gonna buy you Social status is going to buy me Daisy who I love the whole reason I want the money. I don't really care about the money for me. I carried to have Daisy and the money will get me that because society values money. That's a Jay Gatsby is going to say Nick might have a different perspective on money. You might have a different take, and we'll learn about that. Take either through his reactions to what Jay says, or about things he says himself or, in the case of the point of view of that book, things that are going on in his head during the dialogue. So the subject, what we learn through the conversation What the varying perspectives on that subject are as they talk about them. And, fourthly, the thematic concepts themselves always ask what the characters really talking about. Now. This question, once you've answered the 1st 3 is what's going to really help. Make sure that the dialogue your writing is in fact relating to the theme. If you have a character who's been grounded by her mother and she's having an enormous argument about being grounded and not being allowed to go to prom, that discussion is about far more than not going to prom. That discussion is about independence is about how much independence does a mother give a child? What is a fair punishment for a child? Was the infraction worth that punishment? You know how much independence should a child be allowed tohave? It's about a child trying, you know, understanding the rules and responsibilities that a parent has to have. It could be about the fact that parenting hurts sometimes because we don't want to necessarily ground our Children, but we think that's what we need to do to make our Children into the best people they can be. So it could be about all kinds of different things. That discussion could be about so much and you as a writer. It doesn't have to be about all of those things. It shouldn't be about all of those things, but it should be about the themes you're choosing again. This is why the themes you choose matter so much because if you're writing that argument with a mother and her daughter about prom in about being grounded, if your theme is about the difficulty of being a parent and making the right choices, you might write that dialogue differently than if you're themes are really about coming of age story about gaining independence, that conversation it's gonna sound. It's different, depending on the theme you're writing, so you want to know what that is. But that's why, as you're riding your dialogue, you know, start, you can start it either way. If you say I want some dialogue here, that's about this theme. Work backwards from that say Well, OK, but what can they talk about? And I already know that this conversation is really about independence, but how can I show that and how am I going to show those points of view and How am I going to show what information should I reveal? You can work those questions from 1 to 4 or 4 to 1, depending on whether you want to. You already know the dialogue you want to have, and you want a work to the theme or, you know, theme you want to have and you want to work in some dialogue. They go either way. But that sort of sequins is going to help you find your way with a dialogue. All right, In the next video, I would just like to cover some best practices and sort of issues that you can hopefully avoid, as you are riding theme into your stories. 10. Common Mistakes and Class Worksheet: My first piece of advice is something that I briefly mentioned before, which is avoid having too many themes in your stories. It can get quite unwieldy. My recommendation. I don't really like to see people go over five, for sure. I think 2 to 3 is a good number with one primary one, but just avoid too many themes. It can really muddy the waters. The longer your story is. If you've got something like, you know, song of ice and fire that goes on for a long time, it's easier to have more themes. Themes can also comment different points and sort of leave. So themes have their own kinds of presence, whether they are there for a little while, or whether they're there for the whole duration of the story. But avoid having too many that you're trying to cover all at once, because it can just be a bit much for the reader and it can muddy things up a bit. The other problem that I see people run into a lot is that they right in a way that is didactic and a bit preachy, and you want to avoid that we touched on it briefly earlier. But essentially, you do not want to hit your reader over the head with your theme. You want your readers to discover themes for themselves. Now I have a few very specific ways. You can avoid that because this didactic kind of writing generally manifests itself because of one of three reasons. So I want you to avoid these. One is that if your story doesn't have an inner struggle, if you are, if your characters aren't going through internal conflict, that can result in preachy writing. When you have a character who isn't struggling inside, they're just struggling with things out there. That can be rather interesting, because the thing that makes readers grilling engaged with a character is seeing him or her go through these internal conflicts. If I don't see them going through that, it can seem rather boring, and you aren't really given a chance to manifest the theme through their inner struggles. If the inner struggles are the understory and you don't have a strong understory than the whole question of what what's the story really about doesn't exist? It's not there. You haven't put in any support structure. You've just made it thes kind of surface actions. In which case I've got a story about a girl, um, you know, was wealthy and became poverty stricken and everything else. But if I don't see her grappling with certain things and struggling with certain things internally, then you telling me, um hey, you know, being lady like shouldn't be connected to your wealth and and what it means to be lady looks like this just feels very Tichy. It doesn't feel interesting because I'm not experiencing it for myself again. You want the reader to experience through the characters what's going on? If I can't do that, then I'm going t m going to get a little bit of bored with it. The other thing is that when we don't have that variety of internal conflict happening when you make a values statement, which is really what a theme often does a theme statement, you value certain things. I think family should be this way or what have you when you make those values, statements and way don't have sort of inner struggles or different examples of it with people struggling with it, then it's It's this clear cut answer. It's like, well, This is the way that it ISS, there's no nuance, said. There's no, you know, variety of examples of family that make be grapple with it. It's just this is what it is that makes it boring, because you're just sort of saying Nope, it's this. It's this. It's this so that lack of nuance really can show up. Riding something that's a bit didactic can happen for a number of reasons. I just want to give you two main once, because these are the two most frequent problems that I see. The first is simply not showing different sides of an argument. Um, you you really just give me one side, one view of family, one view of justice, and you don't let me see differing opinions on it. When you do that, you're not writing something that's nuanced. So all I'm seeing is this one opinion of you saying families, you know, family is the most important thing. Well, what if you're not close with your family or what if you don't really feel like you have a family, they're all these nuances there, says Why again, you want to write that in with a lot of different characters and different plots situations . If you aren't giving me that variety that is going to result in what feels like preachy riding because of Onley getting one take. The other problem that happens with this, and I mentioned this earlier is that you tell people what's your theme is. You tell people what your lessons are rather than letting them figure it out for themselves . You want to illustrate your themes in action in your stories, and you can relate that through dialogue throughout. But you do not want is the narrator to tell me the green light means this or what have you , and it is not uncommon for me to see characters have these soliloquies and the writing, where the writer will give us character soliloquy and the character to £6 on an issue and in doing so just dumps a lot of the meaning and the symbolism in their soliloquy. Don't do that. If you find any of your characters giving soliloquies, just that should be every red light on the planet going off for you that you are on the wrong track. That is a big problem in a lot of writing. It's one of the biggest mistakes that I C person make always ask yourself, what are the actions? What are the behaviors off my characters that show this symbol? If you've watched my course on writing a character profile, you know that we talk about internal things, manifest themselves externally. If I m you know, if I'm angry inside, that's going to manifest itself in my external actions. And if you know certain external actions your character makes, what's the internal thing driving that? So that's the same thing is true with themes. Ask yourself what? How do the actions in the dialogue and that the activity of that surface story? How do those things illustrate my theme? If you keep it focused on that rather than on just expounding either via dialogue and soliloquy or an exposition, then you will be weaving. You'll be forced toe. We've your theme into your characters and your plot. All right, so we've looked a theme from a variety of perspectives again, this course is just designed to give you an understanding of how theme functions in the story. But then a lot of questions and things you can ask yourself to help you come up with not only watch, your themes are but the best ways that you can write these into your stories, the questions in this course, and they're on your class notes, and they're on your class worksheet. Unlike some of my other courses, you might really find that sometimes going through these ahead of time helps you develop things, but you will probably definitely find that as you're plotting your characters and your plot points, having these questions in the back of your head is what will make those most significant. So you take thes, take these questions and that as you go through and begin plotting out your narrative or building out a character, Arc used these questions as a supplement to those procedures to those endeavors. If you watch any of my other courses where you have activities on how to develop a character, develop a plot, use thes theme questions, keep them near you and ask them and work them in as you make your decisions, and that's going to really help you be cohesive with it. I do have a worksheet that has a lot of questions to help you get started with theme. It's things we've addressed in this class, so I hope you'll download that. And I hope it's a resource for you. I thank you very much for watching. It's always a pleasure to be here. If you enjoy this course, please do leave a review that so helpful for me and it's helpful for your peers. As always. I wish you the very best of luck with your writing, and I will see you again soon, fine.