Deepening Theme in your YA Novel

What is a theme? It’s a conceptual philosophy an author wants to show through their story. It’s about going beneath the surface and finding out what message a story is really trying to tell.

Often, a theme is something a writer is exploring in their own life. Writing a book can be a good way to explore those feelings inside a writer. When different characters argue with each other, sometimes it is a reflection of the internal conflict within a writer as they grapple with that theme.

I’m a writer, and in my own writing, I don’t search for a theme initially. Instead, I write the first draft, read it over, and find that I had a theme the whole time. I take note of it and add it to my outline. After discovering it, I go back and edit my work so it aligns more with the message I was trying to convey (that I didn’t know before). I read again and see if now the message I’m trying to tell is clearer. The theme is often something that occurs naturally based on the way we view the world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require focus once you understand what yours must be in your story.

Examples of themes:

Love

Good vs. Evil

Revenge

Redemption

Coming of Age

The theme is the element of a story that stays with people, and many of us write because we’re trying to get across a theme to our readers. That’s why I’ve compiled these tips for deepening the theme in your story.

First, find your theme

Ask yourself questions. What are you trying to tell with your story? How do the protagonist’s struggles relate to what you’re trying to tell with your story? Find something universal that your reader can relate to. There are certain ideas that recur across age groups.

Use your character’s arc

The way your character changes and grows in your story should reflect your theme. Maybe it’s something they themselves don’t understand yet or something that they need to learn to reach the goal in the story. Your characters are the best way to explore the theme.

Focus on messages from other characters

Use a statement of theme early on in the story, a friend or mentor figure who lets your protagonist know what theme they need to explore. Likely your protagonist won’t listen, and they need to go through their journey to really get it. But this is a great way to prepare your readers for the theme of the story.

Avoid preaching

There’s always an extreme, and with theme this is no different. To prevent going too far into the theme that it sounds preachy, pay attention to balance. Bring characters in with different points of view to challenge the theme. Make the path for your protagonist to arrive at the theme winding and difficult.

What’s the theme of your story?

s5.Get a critique group and feedback.6.Think it’s done!7.Send it to agents.8.Rejections! Turns out it needs more revision.9.Do more revision. Then more.10.Get an agent finally, hallelujah!11.Revise (Still not published.)12.Sub-club, for what seems like a hundred years.13.Write another book.14.Maybe book one gets published, maybe it doesn’t!15.Maybe it does!16.Write another book.At least, that’s approximately how it went for me. But what I will say about the process is that it’s long and only for those who intend to spend their lives writing. The most important thing to remember is that it’s not about one book, or even two books, or three getting rejected or getting published. It’s about the writing. It’s about persistence in writing, about loving the reward of writing stories, and about not worrying about the publication process so much. It’s very hard notto worry sometimes, of course, but letting go of the worry to enjoy writing is really the whole point of writing.

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