WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS TIP #5: THEMES and MISSIONS
Today, I want to write about a subject that is very dear to my heart: Themes.
You see, for the longest time, I didn’t really understand the relationship between themes and writing a truly memorable story which readers will read OVER AND OVER again.
The relationship is really simple: You cannot write a best-selling novel without an overarching theme.
The theme is the backbone of every story, it is the central idea behind your story. Basically, it is what your book is about. In the last post, I described the theme as
“The heart of your story. The story itself. Often the reason why readers will love your book and return to it over and over again.”
The most important things you need to know:
- The best themes are based on emotion because, like it or not, human beings are creatures of emotion. The books that lasts longest in their minds are the ones that made them feel something. According to Lisa Cron in her best-selling book, Story Genius:
“In a story, if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading. It is emotion, rather than logic, that telegraphs meaning, thus emotion is what your novel must be wired to transmit, straight from the protagonist to us.” (Cron, 23)
Some emotion based-themes: revenge, love, fear, hope, war.
- Themes also usually represent a universal truth. It is this universal truth that will resonate with your reader. This truth comes alive through the life/actions of your characters. Some very popular universal truths: Love conquers all, unity in diversity, good vs evil, bravery and confidence (The Harry Porter series by J.K Rowling), etc.
- Themes can also reflect social justice issues like racial injustice (Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi), gender equality, poverty.
Without an emotion-based theme, your story will be a series of actions holding little or no interest for you and your reader. I know, because this has happened to me. I once wrote a 27,000 first draft of a middle grade novel and when I returned to it after a few months, I felt nothing. At first, I didn’t know why. The description of the setting was exquisite, the action scenes were wonderful with the right amount of tension, sweat and blood, but that was all it was, a book with a lovely setting and series of scenes, nothing more.
It took me 6 months to realize …. that the emotional core of my story was missing … that before my protagonist could go on a meaningful adventure in the 16th century, she had to deal with her major problem: “How to believe in herself when no one else will”
To determine the theme of your book, ask yourself the following questions:
What is the point of my story?
Why should my readers care?
- Action: Identify the theme(s) in the book(s) you love.
Is there a book you have read more than once? Yes? That’s the one you need. 😊
- Can you figure out the theme(s) using the questions above and below?
- What did you like best about this book?
- Which character’s story resonated with you and why?
Here are some of my favourites:
- How to Find What You’re Not Looking For (MG) by Veera Hiranandani for themes of racial and religious discrimination, thriving in spite of disability, coming of age and of course the overall message that love conquers all.
- Because (PB) by Mo Willems for themes of chance, kindness and its domino effect, finding inspiration through others, dreaming. This one made me cry. I write because Enid Blyton did. This book reminded me that I can dream today because someone else dared to dream.
More about Themes and Missions in the next post.
Want to write a story for children, don’t know where to start? Tell me all about it and we can figure out the theme and some mentor texts for you!
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Photo credit: amazon.com