Writing is an ambitious venture. There are so many grounds to cover, from deciding on the plot, developing characters, and coming up with a compelling book title to finding a publisher willing to print your work. However, starting always seems to be the hardest part of the process, especially in the phase when you still haven’t decided what your next story is going to be about.
When you’re new to storytelling, it often seems that finding the perfect theme is borderline impossible: There are so many options to choose from, and you’re not sure how to approach this challenge.
Luckily, there are a few very useful guidelines that can help you come up with great ideas and ultimately choose a theme that both you and your audience are going to love.
1. Prepare to do extensive research
Contrary to popular belief, writers don’t spend all of their time typing tirelessly for hours and days. In fact, before any word hits the paper, every author worth their salt usually starts off by conducting research on the topic they’ve chosen.
The fact that you are still to decide on the theme for your story doesn’t mean this step doesn’t apply to you. Start researching trending topics in the literary world and find out what award-winning authors write about.
The purpose of this step isn’t to settle for any idea you come up with right away, though. This step should only help you understand your options better, guiding you to the topics that interest readers more than some others.
2. Get inspired by everyday life
The second part of your research phase is to get out and be fully present in your life. Observe people in the streets, coffee shops, and museums. Really listen to your friends and family. Talk to strangers at your local grocery store. Art imitates life, and you can’t write about life if you’re not truly experiencing and exploring all its aspects and miniature wonders.
3. Steal from the best
They say that good artists copy, while great artists steal. Does this mean that you should rewrite Shakespeare into a modern-time adaptation and be done with it? Probably not (although this can be an interesting exercise). What this means is that, in essence, all stories have already been told, so you can let go of the ideal (and the pressure) of creating something “truly unique and different”. Feel free to be inspired by the works of the world’s finest novelists.
4. Explore the storytelling theory
Although some stories often look very distinctive when compared to others, storytelling experts have noticed that all of them follow certain principles. The efforts to systematize these have somewhat succeeded, but now the literature is overflowing with different approaches and divisions which aim to narrow down plot types to 3, 6, 7, or even more groups.
Whichever division you come across in your research will surely help you devise your plot, but one of the most comprehensive story analyses you should definitely look up specifically is Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.
5. Contemplate the purpose of your story
What are the feelings you want your story to convey? Should there be a message for the reader, clear as a day or hidden in plain sight? Will your protagonists fight for their freedom or require help to escape their pessimistic outlook on life? Ask yourself: “What do I want the purpose of my story to be?” and you will take a giant leap forward.
6. Decide on a preferred genre
Here’s one marvelous thing about stories: You can convey any message in any form you like. Romance, memoir, dystopian tale, satire, or any other genre can be fitting to tell the story you want to tell. More often than not, these genres intertwine, creating new forms you can explore to your heart’s content.
7. Create a brief summary
Once you’ve powered through all of these steps, you might feel more confused than you were at the beginning of this process. Don’t let that worry you: With so much information on your mind, it’s perfectly normal to feel this way. Take some time to relax before you return to your desk. Once you’re back, create a point-by-point summary of all the vital aspects you want your story to consider.
Even though writing is a challenging endeavor, it can also be extremely rewarding. Take your time, do your research, and write down all of the ideas you come up with along the way. That perfect theme is out there, waiting to be discovered and cultivated.
Contemplating ideas and adapting them to be just right always takes time, but is sure to pay off in the long run. Only when you are truly passionate about your story will the readers be able to recognize and share this wonderful feeling.
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