How to find the theme in your stories–and turn them into T-rexes

That of theme is an essential concept in creative writing. In fact, it can give a work of fiction depth and resonance beyond belief. However, it is important to make sure we know what a theme really is. In particular we must pay attention not to confuse it with the subject of a story. For example, in the Lord of the Rings Frodo must travel to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, the only able to rule the other Rings of Power. We can therefore say that the battle for power is the subject of the story. Instead, the main theme of The Lord of the Rings (or rather one of its main themes) has to do with the inherent ability power has to corrupt who wields it. To make things clearer, just think of a book about the war. In such a case the war would be the subject …

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Describing characters in fiction – literary techniques

In a previous post about memorable characters in fiction I wrote that writers must offer their readers many occasions to get to know the characters populating their stories. In fact, just as in real life the more we know about someone the more intense our feelings can grow for that person, the same happens in a novel. However, given that any work of literature, even the lengthiest one, is always an heavily edited and condensed version of reality, we must choose with care which scenes to include in our stories and which are instead better left out. For example, if in our book we describe Ms. Jones going through an endless series of only relatively trivial incidents, we can rest assured our readers will put down our book and find something better to do. Of course, if we really want to write some experimental book full of meta language and …

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How to use stereotypes in books – writing myths debunked

Stereotypes in books… Shouldn’t they be like the kiss of death for the story you want to tell? Well, not necessarily. First of all, let’s consider what a stereotype is according to the Oxford Dictionary: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified idea of a particular type of person, group of people, or thing. In this definition the adjectives “fixed” and “oversimplified” are the ones that make any serious beginning writer consider stereotypes in books with diffidence, to say the least. Besides, in the past, some psychologists believed stereotypes were used exclusively by people particularly rigid, repressed, and authoritarian–the exact opposite of what any writer should aim to be. Indeed, at times stereotypes can make us blind to what is out there in the environment. But they can also enable us to respond rapidly to a wide array of situations we have already encountered. In addition, we should also note how …

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Backstory for characters – how to exploit it in fiction

Backstory is a history or background created for fictional characters in a film, television program, or a novel. Backstory for characters is therefore an essential part of any novel. Even those written with a minimalist style–like it is the case for Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Instead, in short stories the approach to backstory can vary notably—mostly depending on the length of the short story itself. In some cases we have almost no backstory–for example because, like in Sentry by Fredric Brown, it helps create the final twist. In other cases instead backstory is used unabashedly because it is necessary to the story–Cathedral by James Carver comes to mind. From definitions to literary quotes When creating some backstory for your characters, I believe that you should always keep in mind these two quotes. The first comes from On Writing by Stephen King:  “The most important things to remember about backstory are that …

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The difference between character and plot driven books – and why creative writing prompts are useless

Character and plot are necessary parts of any novel. But, depending on how each is approached, they can change deeply the way a novel grows under an author’s fingertips. Novels based on plot focus primarily on the sequence of events they recount, and tend to treat characters quite superficially–often resorting to stereotypes, and steering clear of any meaningful introspection. Instead, novels based essentially on characters put a much more emphasis on the psychology, on the reasons behind a character’s actions. They tend to explore more deeply things like causality, feelings, memory. Character and plot -plot-driven books To make this distinction clear, just imagine of looking at two pictures. The first shows Jack while he is kissing Alice and promising her he will never again let her down. The second instead shows Jack, drunk and angry, driving away from Alice’s place. A plot-driven novel would just force the protagonist to kiss Alice …

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