So far, we’ve discussed your PREMISE, the PLOT POINTS and COMPLICATIONS, and SCENES.

Today let’s talk about determining the meat of the story which will help define what the story is about, who the protagonist is, what he/she wants/needs, who your audience is. Without answers to these questions, your story might be a great idea, but will it develop into a readable story?

These 5 points were the hardest for me to define. I had the most trouble with the THEME. It changed about fifteen times before I realized what it was.

First, let’s look at MOTIVE. This is not your protag’s motive, but that of the story. Here’s mine:

Tell a story set in the far future about how a strong female deals with an oppressive, male-dominated society.

Pretty straightforward. 

Next is DESIRE. This does apply to the protag. What is his/her biggest desire in the story? What must they accomplish or die trying?

Mine: to be left alone to live her own life her way, to meet her birth mother, her twin sister and be with the boy she loves without government interference.

GOAL. Every character in the story must have a goal. Even the antag has a goal. But here we are concerned with the protag’s goal. What drives your character?

Mine:  to get through this horrific experience, required by the government of all girls her age but escape if she sees a chance.

CONFLICT. I know you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: You don’t have a story without conflict. There should be LOTS and LOTS of conflict in a good story. We’re talking here about the MAIN conflict of the story and maybe one or two SUB conflicts.

Mine: Shawna’s bullying (jealous); government’s Generational Program which is inflicted on every girl age 12-20; internal conflict about who she is.

THEME. Like I said, this was the hardest for me. I read through list after list of possible themes looking for the one which fit my story. I found several, but they never seemed just right. For example, knowing who you truly are can make you strong enough to deal with adversity. While this is true of my character, it is not the theme of the entire story.  Information can lead to knowledge. Oppression leads to rebellion. By losing everything, sometimes you gain a true sense of self. While all of these held a glimmer of what the story is about, none were complete.

Then I thought of this one: Sometimes, it’s only by staring into the abyss one finds the courage to jump across.

This fit my story in many ways, which I listed in my notes and was pleased to see how well it fit. So don’t try on just one or two, keep looking for the right idea until you find the one that fits.

Another interesting way of getting the theme across is the use of Symbolism. What are some symbols you can use to establish the theme in the reader’s mind?

Mine: Rayna’s view out the window beside her top bunk is of a narrow street and the front of another tall building. The street is so narrow she imagines getting a running start down the central dorm aisle between the beds and launching herself to freedom across the chasm of the street, landing on the roof of the next building.

In the Exercise Yard, where they all go for one hour every day, Rayna presses so hard against the chainlink fence while staring down her street to freedom, that she become imprinted by the links on her cheeks, forehead, shoulders and hands.

Next month, getting to know your Protagonist.

For an in-depth discussion of these points be sure to read K.M. Weiland's Outlining Your Novel

Rebecca Ryals Russell, a fourth-generation Floridian, was born in Gainesville, grew up in Ft Lauderdale then lived in Orlando and Jacksonville with her Irish husband and four children. Due to the sudden death of Rebecca's mother, they moved to Wellborn, near Lake City, to care for her father, moving into his Victorian home built in 1909. After teaching Middle Graders for fourteen years she retired and began writing the story idea which had been brewing for thirty years.  Within six months she wrote the first three books of each series, YA Seraphym Wars and MG Stardust Warriors. The world she created has generated numerous other story ideas including two current works in progress, SageBorn Chronicles based on various mythologies of the world and aimed at the lower Middle Grade reader and Saving Innocence, another MG series set on Dracwald and involving dragons and Majikals. She is finishing a YA Dystopian Romance which has been a NaNoWriMo project for three years. She loves reading YA Fantasy, Horror and Sci Fi as well as watching movies.  Read more about Rebecca and her WIPs as well as how to buy books in her various series at  You may email her at


Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great points. I think stories often have more than one theme.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Am thoroughly enjoying your series of posts, Rebecca, and found it particularly useful to realize I'm not the only writer finding it difficult to pinpoint theme.
Your choices and final, perfect decision clarified the process for me.

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