Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Theme’

A Writer’s Quarterly Review

In 52 Writing Topics, Plot, Quarterly Review, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 6, 2012 at 11:00 am

Businesses do it for survival, but I figured as a writer, I could glean my own form of a quarterly review.

I’ve just finished month four of my yearlong blog of 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.

A little late, my review is three months, plus one.

Each week, I am tackling a writing topic, starting with the basics of Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue and Pacing to fire up the big guns in my writer’s toolbox.
The BIG guns, you ask.

Before opening the toolbox, I want to key in on the essentials of writing a story or novel.

There has to be a hook in the beginning that contains a strong inciting incident. This incident triggers the main character’s problem or submerges him or her into trouble. She wants something but has to face obstacles that block the path to obtaining her goals and desires.

The telling of her story begins in the middle of the action to achieve a level of pacing that draws in the reader. The exciting moment is what gets readers turning the page, which likely won’t happen if the telling is bogged down with back story or has to start at the beginning without anything interesting happening.

Wherever they appear in a story, flashbacks should retell what happened before the story’s action begins and are triggered by something specific, such as a character seeing an object and remembering something because of it.

The story unfolds as a series of scenes strung together with a beginning, middle and end, or the arc of the entire telling. The outcome of each scene is what moves the plot forward.

What the story is about and why it matters is the theme, which offers insights or comments about the human experience.

The setting grounds the character in his or her reality without drawing too much attention to the words.

Voice comes through word choice and how words are put together to describe things.

Unlike that of the author, a character’s voice is revealed in her behaviors and attitudes to those around her. Her dialogue is reduced to the essentials, leaving out the normal repetitions, tangents and diversions that occur in regular conversation.

The elements of fiction are just one aspect of my toolbox, as are my hammer, nails, screwdriver and pliers that represent my paper, pen, laptop, journals and the other things I need to do the writing.

The specifics of what is in a writer’s toolbox will be continued to next week, because my quarterly review has two parts. Like some CEOs, I need lots of paper to make a point.

* See Zoey the dachshund’s blog on her four-month review at

Theme in Writing (Reading)

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 18, 2012 at 10:00 am

Though it seems so basic to me now, I used to struggle with identifying the theme in the books I read.

A definition of theme is that it is the main message of the story or the central idea the writer is expressing. It is what the story really is about and why the story matters.

In other words, it is the deeper layer of meaning running through the story’s surface.

Theme is the glue that holds together a story. Otherwise, the story consists of this happening and then this and that and lacks that meaning.

As an early reader, I identified several “themes” in the text that, for me, added many layers through my interpretation of the unfolding events. But I couldn’t say what the main theme was, such as good versus evil or overcoming some difficulty to achieve success. I couldn’t narrow what I read into a few words, though I could summarize the plot from the beginning through the climax to the end.

The same goes with my writing. I just want to tell a story. I come up with character identities and a brief plot outline. It’s not until I start writing and thinking about my story that themes arise, usually more than one.

Theme is not just a simple idea fleshed into story; it is how the writer interprets the world. It is how the writer explains what people do as they interact with that world and with each other.

The writer doesn’t have to come up with some great revelation about human behavior but simply can offer some insight or comments. The writer can achieve this without being overbearing, preachy or heavy handed.

Readers, in turn, interpret the theme, or themes, differently by noticing different aspects of the story. The theme makes them think and ask questions about what they’re reading but also about their own lives.

It is the lesson or conclusion that can be drawn from the story that adds value to the greater world.

* See Zoey’s blog on the same topic at