Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about theme. Theme building takes work, but it can be done step-by-step. Become passionate about your theme.
At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because the theme in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.
- Novels are moral.
- Conflicting ideals or values create tension.
- Become impassioned about your story.
- Express convictions through characters.
- Use the reverse motive exercise to deepen your characters’ convictions.
- Develop symbols from what is at hand.
- Strengthen your own passion with the oppression exercise.
- Map the moral development (or decline) of your protagonist.
- Universal themes usually are familiar, but in the breakout novel, they are portrayed in depth.
- If you must go out on a moral limb, anchor your readers in a sympathetic character.
- Don’t push theme; let it flow.
- Put your characters to the test.
[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]