"Themes underlie surface attitudes and actions of the characters in your story," Alderson stated. She then said, "To identify the deeper meaning of your story, you must know yourself and your story very well."
So how do we do this?
- This may seem silly to say but first WRITE YOUR STORY. All to often, myself included, we hem and haw about what we WANT to write instead of DOING the writing. Make sure you get a first draft down on the page in any shape or form. Some writers' first draft is actually a very-detail oriented outline. Sometimes it's a combination of synopsis and chapters strung together. Others sit down at their computers and don't come up for air until they've got the entire story written from beginning to end. Or written from ending to beginning. If you must pause in the writing process to figure out a few details then do so. BUT make sure you return and finish what you've started!!
- After you've completed your first draft give yourself some breathing room. This might be a good time to go back through what you've written and summarize each chapter. A single sentence that summarizes the meaning for each chapter and the emotion. And what are the themes that are emerging from each chapter? Do you see common themes surfacing in each chapter?
- Alderson said, "Ask yourself what those themes mean to you?"
- Be patient. Alderson said, "When you first plan your plot, your themes are likely sketchy with gaps and dead ends. These gaps will smooth over and fill in as you better understand what your story is about and you know your characters better." So this means you need to keep revising and rewriting. Asking yourself what it is you're trying to say? How do you feel about the themes emerging? And do you need to adapt what you're saying so it resembles what you TRULY want to say?
- Don't give up. Even when I'm writing picture books it takes many, many revisions to uncover the truth. To figure out what my characters are trying to say? What I'm trying to say? The good thing is that the clues are there. You just need to give yourself time to find them and recognize them for what they are.
I highly recommend reading The Plot Whisperer because Alderson's advice pertains to any type of story you're trying to tell. I'm using her tips for my picture books as well as the plot planner for chapter books and novels. Understanding the universal story and using the plot planner will help you find the truth to your story faster. It's like putting on a pair of reading glasses when the world looks blurry -- everything becomes sharper and more focused.