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Friday, August 17, 2007


Houses reflect truths about their owners: what they care about, what they do, how they want others to perceive them. So, too, does our writing reflect the same truths about us. These "truths"--the reason we're writing a particular piece--are what I term "themes."

A few years ago, a middle school English teacher told me she had trouble teaching students how to write/recognize themes. I responded by giving her a copy of a few of my published articles/stories, including "Sparkly," and highlighting the elements I'd used to create the themes. Those elements included specific word choices, images, and thematic endings, as illustrated in the "Sparkly" exerpts below.

1)--Word Choice:

When Mom was gone, Mindy gazed at her reflection in the window. Am I really sparkly? she wondered. If I am, where is the light?
She nudged the angel. Its dress twinkled.

2) Specific Images:

“I’m counting the sparkly snowflakes. Four, five, six. … Mom, why is everything sparkly at Christmas?”
Mom sat beside her. “What do you see that is sparkly?”
Snowflakes, angels, tree lights, wrapping paper, sugar cookies, …”
Mom took a tiny glass angel from the tree.

3) The message I wanted readers to take home with them--my theme--was: there is light, brilliance, and goodness within each of us. So, here's my "sparkly" ending.

When she finished, Kate clapped her hands. “ ‘Gain!” she begged.
Mindy sang the song again and again and again.
Finally Kate jumped into her arms and gave her a big hug.
Mindy grinned. She felt happy, tingly-warm—and sparkly.

A final note. In 1966, Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald wrote an article titled, "Themes in the Traditional Novel." In it, they described themes as the nonfictional conclusion about life that the author portrayed through the experiences of his characters. This conclusion, they said, is best developed when the author begins with a statement of purpose, rather than a "theme" they want to moralize on, develops characters with oposing view points on that issue, and has the characters interact until the conflict is resolved and a "nonfictional" conclusion is determined. One example they cited was, The Lord of the Flies. In it, "the reader cannot help but come to the nonfictional conclusion that if people were left to themselves, they would revert to the primitive forms of society." That was its theme.

True, developing an effective theme may seem undaunting to the beginning writer, but taken one idea, one element, at a time--"baby steps"--it can be learned. I'm sure of it.


Rebecca Talley said...

Great post. I like your examples because they're well written and illustrate your point on how word choice can point to the theme.


C. L. Beck said...

Your post is great info for beginning writers! Having a theme in mind before writing is an excellent way to help keep the story on task.

Thanks for taking the time to put examples.

Josi said...

I haven't broken it down like this for a long time, and (as you well know) I needed this very much. Thanks Ronda...you've given me an idea.