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An Emotional Road Map: Stating Your Novel’s Theme

For reasons I’ll clarify in upcoming posts, theme is important to me. I know, many will claim that it’s not about what I’m trying to say as the author that counts. What matters is what the reader takes away from the novel. I don’t know that they can get anything out of it if there’s no there there to begin with. Stating your novel’s theme doesn’t mean that you hit people over the head with it starting on page one. The opening line doesn’t need to be a thesis statement. There should be some groundwork laid early on, though, that will pay off later.

Stating Your Novel’s Theme

Having a literary theme for the book helps me to know where I’m going. Plot is the mechanism; we move from A to B to C. Theme is the heart, the reason why the story has to move that way. Creating some scenes that introduce the thematic arguments allows me to foreshadow larger events that come later. Knowing where the characters stand lets me know how their arcs have to unfold. It’s the emotional road map, counterpoint to the technical beats of the traditional three-act structure.

Let’s take the obvious and heavy-handed theme of good versus evil. If your authorial stance is that good always triumphs over evil, then good characters will eventually win. Evil characters will ultimately and without fail bear the consequences of their evil deeds. Individual characters can have their own views on why good wins, or why they chose to embrace evil instead, creating point to be debated within the story. In the end, though, the reader should understand the point that you’re making. That starts by stating your novel’s theme up front.


Progress Report: Day 3

  • Today is day 3 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 815 words, bringing the total to 3,154.
  • That puts me 1,954 words ahead of my target goal, based on adding 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working out of chronological order on the scenes that introduce important characters. I want to make sure they each reflect the overall theme of the book, in their own ways.

Notes

  • For those interested in such things, on my Twitter I’m participating in #TheMerryWriter game.
  • I was equal parts annoyed and amused when someone on Twitter slagged Dickens and Austen, only to turn around and clutch their pearls when someone said they have issues with J.K. Rowling.
  • As much as I’d like to add more affiliate links here, Amazon is so problematic for so many reasons. For now I’ll keep linking to Project Gutenberg for public domain works. You can always find the link to my Ko-Fi at the bottom of the page if you want to support the cause.

Thanks for Visiting

Comments? I want to hear them! Questions? I want to answer them! Leave a message below and let’s chat about writing!

Come along on this journey with me, as I fumble around and figure out what I’m doing. Go to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the site, if you haven’t already! Never miss a new post!

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Did You Set Any Big Writing Goals at the Start of 2019?

Because I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, I didn’t set any big writing goals at the start of 2019. As I complete projects and things come off my plate, I set new goals so that I have a realistic plan to see them through and achieve them. Around my birthday (November) I revisit and reset my existing goals and I think about what I want to do with the next year of my life. I guess that counts as the start of my year.

That works for me most of the time, but this year I took the entire month of November to reconsider what I wanted. I felt trapped in a reactive mode. My work flow was geared toward writing things that would pay the bills, but I wasn’t necessarily writing the sorts of things I wanted to write. Adjustments had to be made. I needed a way to do both.

My current big goals are to write a novel and to build up this blog to chronicle my novel-writing journey. Both of those officially started yesterday on 1 December. So this month’s #TheMerryWriter theme is timely for me.

Big Writing Goals at the Start of 2019

Okay reader, it’s your turn. Did you have any big writing goals that set back in January? You don’t have to be a participant in The Merry Writer game to play along here!


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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Platform Building and Opening Scenes

All satisfying writing projects are alike; each terrible project is terrible in its own way. With apologies to Tolstoy, I am now at the beginning of two new writing projects. This is the first official post of the Café Epimetheus era on this site, where the focus is on writing about writing. I have also written the initial few pages of the new novel. Naturally, I’m seeing parallels between platform building and opening scenes.

I have resisted the urge, on both fronts, to lead with a massive info dump. There has to be a clean entry point for the reader, to make it clear what it is they’re reading. It has to be engaging enough that they’ll want to keep reading. It’s a matter of figuring out what needs to be said up front, which points can be teased for later, and how to pace the things you’re dying to tell.

Where platform building and opening scenes diverge is in their role and presentation. Every writing teacher in the world will stress the importance of hooking the reader. If that first chapter, first paragraph, first line is not perfect, readers will apparently storm your house with torches and pitchforks. The upside is that it doesn’t have to be done until the rest of the book it complete. I can go back and revise it until it’s just right.

The first post here is merely a brick in the wall. While I’d love for this to be the catalyst that draws in new readers, I understand its limits. It is the cumulative mass of a site, its consistency, utility, and collective entertainment value, that creates its gravity. There will continuously be new entry points. Some future subscriber may never see this post.

Platform Building and Opening Scenes

What’s important, on both projects, is that I am no longer facing a blank page and wondering what and how to write. It will take a while for me to find the voice I’m looking for. Reaching a comfort level, and a point where I’m satisfied with the work, will come eventually. The journey is what matters. I am doing it. You can’t polish something that doesn’t exist.


Progress Report: Day 2

  • Today is day 2 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 2,339 words, bringing the total to 2,339.
  • That puts me 1,739 words ahead of my target goal, based on writing 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working on the second scene of the first act.

Notes

  • In case you missed the link buried in the text above, a synopsis of the novel can be found on the About the WIP page.
  • The book has a working title: Cold Sunset. I doubt that will stick, but it gives me something to refer to and name files.
  • My expectation is that I will get more than the goal word count of 600 word per day written on weekends. I don’t have as much on my plate.
  • The opening scene has all of the elements that I want it to have. It’s a matter of cleaning up the presentation. The content is solid, but the writing can be better.
  • I’m not entirely sold on this format for posts. This bottom section is a good idea, I think. It allows me to provide some background without resorting to excessive exposition.

Thanks for Visiting

Comments? I want to hear them! Questions? I want to answer them! Leave a message below and let’s chat about writing!

Come along on this journey with me, as I fumble around and figure out what I’m doing. Go to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the site, if you haven’t already! Never miss a new post!

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Introduce Yourself with 3 Unusual Facts

In an attempt to better connect with the writing community onlineI’m participating in The Merry Writer. It’s a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new prompt or question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter. This month’s theme is goals. Today’s prompt is unrelated to that theme, but a good entry point: Introduce yourself to the group with 3 unusual facts.

So, hello! I’m Berin. Here are 3 unusual facts about me:

1. My legal name started off as a pen name.

Berin Kinsman is not the name that I was born with. When I began writing professionally in the early 1990’s I used it as a pen name for a lot of complicated reasons. I was estranged from my biological family at the time and looking to distance myself from them. Legally changing my name dovetailed with both finding my way as a writer and gaining control of my personal life.

2. I used to write romance under a female pen name.

When I was in college I wrote a romance novel on a bet. That came about when roommates caught me reading a romance novel. I sent it around as part of that bet. To my surprise, it got accepted. I wrote a couple more because while I wasn’t easy, the money was okay. At the time it beat flipping burgers. No, I’m not going to tell you the pen name or the titles of the books. They didn’t sell well and have long since fallen out of print.

3. I’m finally writing a novel that I hope to publish under my real name.

After a decade of ghost writing things for other people, most of which I wouldn’t want to put my name on, I’ve started writing a “serious” novel. My intention is to finish the first draft by the end of February, spend the summer polishing in, and hopefully start querying it by the end of the year.

Introduce Yourself

Okay reader, this is where I turn it back on you. Introduce yourself in the comments below with three unusual facts about yourself. You don’t have to be a participant in The Merry Writer game to play along here!

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Approaching Life as a Writer’s Retreat

Ever since we moved to Finland I’ve talked about approaching this time as a writer’s retreat. Of course, that’s when I expected that we’d be here for two years. By the time our current residence permit expires we’ll have been here for six, and we have every intention of staying forever if we can, so that original plan has been out the window for a long time.

If I had my way, I would do nothing but write, read, and drink coffee. As it works out, that’s still a significant portion of my day. I can deal with having to do marketing and accounting as part of the job. Household chores don’t both me. What keeps coming back around, though, is this idea that I have to interact with the world in a certain way in order to sell books. It’s the opposite of being the kind of quasi-monastic hermit I desire to be.

My role model in this has been Warren Ellis. Now, granted, he can get away with a certain lifestyle because he’s Warren- fncking-Ellis.  He has declared himself to be retired from the internet, save for his own website and newsletter and times when he’s contractually obligated to promote something. In a recent post he talks about how all of the moving parts stress him out, and how the only thing that brings him joy is creating things. So he’s only going to do that, as much as the world allows him to.

Treating Life as a Writer’s Retreat

Ellis talks about taking time to figure things out. That’s why I did during this internet hiatus. I’m making sure that I have time built into my ongoing schedule so that I can continue to figure it out, and make adjustments. It’s about the journey.

Because it’s not about having a writer’s retreat. It’s not even about having a writer’s life. It’s just about having the life that you want. I hit upon the notion that I needed to write a novel to write a novel, with no care for commercial concerns of the opinions of other people. The reason I went back to Twitter and will begin blogging again is because I enjoy creating, regardless of whether people enjoy the things I put out into the world. I can do those things on my own terms, within my own comfort level, and ignore people who say that I’m doing it wrong.

Regular blogging begins 2 December 2019. Until then, you’ll get interludes like this. So subscribe already! And please, leave comments below. I want your feedback and your questions.