Story Themes: What’s Your Worldview?

by Jami Gold on April 1, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Graphic of human looking up at space with text: Improve Story Themes with Our Core Beliefs

I don’t know how schools in other places teach writing, but around here, most composition lessons focus on non-fiction. Kids learn how to write research reports, persuasive essays, and journal entries. But rarely do schools (especially pre-high school) focus on writing fiction.

Usually when kids do study fiction, they’re in analytical mode. How did the point of view affect xyz? How did the author’s word choice affect the story’s mood? What was the theme of the story?

Some of us might have winced at the last question above, as kids (and adults!) often struggle with identifying a story’s theme. So when it comes to writing themes in our own stories, we might be at a loss for how to do so.

This past weekend, a writing workshop for preteens included lessons on how to write with themes. The processes the kids went through to discover how to incorporate themes in their stories might help us too. *smile*

Step 1: Understand Why Themes Repeat

In our stories, we try to come up with unique plots, characters, twists, etc. Yet we often repeat themes. Why?

It’s because certain ideas and beliefs resonate deep inside us. Our view of the world—optimistic or pessimistic, God does or doesn’t exist, true love is possible or not, people are basically good or selfish, technology will help us or kill us, etc.—is so deeply a part of us that we might not consciously recognize it as a construct of our mind.

Despite us not always being consciously aware of those beliefs, more often than not, our stories will reflect that worldview. If we believe people are basically good at their core, we’re more likely to write stories that include elements of redemption or sacrifice. If we believe people are basically selfish at their core, we’re more likely to write stories that include elements of society breaking down in some way.

Our stories reflect our worldview. Our themes reflect our worldview. Therefore, unless we go through a massive psychological change that affects our worldview, our themes will repeat.

We might not even be able to write against our worldview. Above, I had a hard time putting myself into the shoes of the “people are selfish” believers to guess what elements their stories might reflect. A whole story would be even more difficult.

That’s not to say we can’t write characters with opposite beliefs (even with our protagonist), but on the story level—the overall message we want readers to take away—we might not be able to write a story with an opposite belief at the core. If we believe people are good, we’d probably be hard pressed to write a story where the point was to “prove” that people are selfish. That isn’t good or bad—it just is.

Step 2: Identify Our Core Beliefs

For the preteens in the workshop, many of them didn’t have enough life experience to guess at their core beliefs. But a simple technique helped them figure out what ideas and beliefs resonated with them.

  1. Think about what stories—especially the specific scenes, reveals, or turning points—have felt the most powerful to you. Really powerful, not because they were surprising, but because they “spoke” to you. Books, TV, movies, whatever, they all count.
  2. Now think about what those scenes have in common. Are they all about love, loyalty, betrayal, friendship, loss, etc.? Do they share a theme? Do they share a certain perspective? Do they share a type of twist?

The commonalities between elements that speak to us—that resonate deeply within us—can reveal our core beliefs. Our favorite stories will often have themes in common with each other and with our world view.

The first time I experienced one of those powerful scenes, I was younger than the kids in the workshop. I used to watch the old Lost in Space TV show reruns after school, and one scene blew my mind. I was probably about 8 or so, and yet I still remembered the gist of the scene enough to do a Google search for it yesterday.

In this episode, an alien spirit has possessed Professor Robinson (the dad) and he’s about to push Will Robinson (the son, of “Danger, Will Robinson!” fame) off a cliff. In a final goodbye, Will tells his dad he loves him. Ignore the cheesy acting and dialogue, and pretend you’re 8 years old. *smile*

Lost in Space on Hulu: Follow the Leader clip

When Will wonders how his dad was able to fight the mind control, his dad says, “Love, Will. In all the worlds and galaxies of this universe, there is nothing stronger.” *eight-year-old brain explodes*

Every story I’ve loved over my whole life includes variations on this “love is powerful” theme. Every scene that gets my chest to clench and tears to spring to my eyes reflects that idea, from a hero sacrificing for his true love in a romance novel to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow‘s reveal of Professor Snape and his statement of “Always.”

Step 3: Explore those Core Beliefs in Our Stories

Once we know our core beliefs, we’ll know what themes will feel the most powerful to us as we’re writing. And if the themes resonate with us, we might naturally write echoes of those ideas throughout the story.

My stories all explore that “love is powerful” idea in different ways. Some include redemption brought on by forgiving love. Some include sacrifice triggered by protective love. Most include overcoming obstacles because of the strength granted by love.

Whether between lovers, friends, or family, love is at the core of my stories. That’s who I am. That’s my worldview, and I couldn’t write a story from the opposite perspective.

Being aware of our core beliefs can help us write deeper themes and stronger stories by:

For the kids in the workshop, many of them had ideas for setting, characters, or premise, and by learning their core beliefs, they could pick one aspect they wanted their story to include as a theme. Then they came up with conflicts or situations that would expose that aspect.

Now we don’t have to be conscious of all this when we draft. I’m often only subconsciously aware of my themes during drafting, but I know my core beliefs will be in there somewhere. We don’t have to plan this in advance, especially because our stories can have more than one theme, but when it comes time for revisions, we should know what we want to say with our story.

Step 4: Trust Our Core Beliefs During Revisions

Ever get feedback from an editor or beta reader that feels like a gut punch? Like the suggestions would change the essence of your book?

Unfortunately, most of us have. It’s a bad feeling, and we wonder how we could be so off-base in getting our message across. How could they have misread the point of our story so badly?

Many times, no one is “wrong” in that situation. Their suggestions wouldn’t necessarily make the book better, they’d simply make the book different.

The reason some feedback is that far off is because they look at the premise and see how they’d explore that premise within their worldview. The feedback would change the story to match their worldview, not ours.

(Yeah, that’s not helping us improve the story we’re trying to tell, but just as we can’t help our worldview from coloring everything we experience, the same goes for them. These differences are yet another reason why reading is subjective. Our stories probably won’t resonate as much with people who have opposite worldviews.)

So when we’re faced with feedback that conflicts with how our story unfolds at its essence—especially when it feels like if we made the changes, our story wouldn’t be ours anymore—we can compare the suggestions with our core beliefs. If the suggestions conflict with our worldview, we know we shouldn’t make the changes.

Again, while the story would be different, the changes wouldn’t make it better. The changes would simply create a different story. We can’t compare apples and oranges.

Paying attention to our core beliefs when we’re revising might help us trust our gut reaction more. If changes conflict with our core beliefs, we don’t have to doubt ourselves when we ignore those suggestions. Remember: We’re the only one who can tell our story.

On the other hand, if a suggestion aligns with our worldview, we should definitely pay attention. In that case, it’s likely the changes would improve the story we are trying to tell. Our themes would likely be stronger and more powerful.

Knowing what we want to say can make all the difference. If we know what makes our story worth reading (the “so what?” factor), we’re more likely to be able to include those themes than if we hope a theme emerges from the collection of words. Just like our characters, we’re more likely to reach a goal if we have ideas for how to get there. *smile*

Do you repeat themes or core beliefs in your writing? Do you know what your worldview is? Can you think of favorite stories or scenes that reflect your core beliefs? Could you write a story from the opposite perspective? Have you received feedback that reflected a different worldview?

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42 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee April 1, 2014 at 6:13 am

The reason some feedback is that far off is because they look at the premise and see how they’d explore that premise within their worldview. The feedback would change the story to match their worldview, not ours.

That is a fantastic analysis, Jami. I’d understood the effects you describe, but I hadn’t thought of this as a core reason behind it. Thanks! 😀

I believe everyone’s a screwup, some form of crazy, but some folks are just better at hiding it than others. (Some are also more self-aware and honest with themselves, but that’s another issue.)

I also believe people are naturally not good—that it’s only by the grace of God that we aren’t all entirely self-serving asses, willing to stomp on others (or worse) to fulfill our own desires. (Consider the notorious “Terrible Twos”; what is the cause of tantrums, but selfishness not yet tempered by reality?)

Those particular beliefs understandably affect what I write…and I’m naturally a pessimist.

I actually can’t write something that’s completely lighthearted. I’ve tried. So far, all my attempts at lighthearted end up black humor, even on the creepy side. (One “exception” is a crack!fic, but even that’s not as lighthearted as I was going for. It did end up as comedic as I wanted, though.)

Okay, and I have a few short stories that are closer to lighthearted than not, but those are from when I was a teenager and more conscientiously forcing myself to be optimistic. But they make me cringe, now. I’m trying to write a sequel, and forcing myself to keep it light is actually exhausting.

(Short version: I’m naturally the caustic sort of pessimist. A friend and I realized that would end up ugly when we were about 12, so we actually worked together to stop being sarcastic. It was tough, but now my caustic side comes out rarely enough that it even startles my friends and my family accuses me of some kind of disability prevents me from understanding or appreciating sarcasm, because I’m trying to get them to drop the sarcasm, too. They call me naive.)

I’m hoping that once my allergies are improved and my adrenal fatigue is healed, I’ll have the energy to try something lighthearted, again. In the meantime, most of my work interweaves light moments into dark stories—like a werewolf who dislikes bacon in a novel about a runaway slave.

Because I want to write something lighthearted, like Shanna Swendson’s Enchanted, Inc. series. My underlying worldview doesn’t really incline itself toward that—not in the way I think about it—so that explains why I have such a hard time with it. 🙂

Thanks, Jami!

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 9:05 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Yes, I understand that “everyone has their own brand of crazy” idea. 🙂 And I understand the “there but for the grace of God” angle as far as selfishness, etc. Yet I’m also an optimistic. *shrug*

I think because of that, I tend to write stories that feel light and fluffy, but actually have deeper/darker, more bittersweet nuances underneath. For example, many of my villains are driven by love as well. So if readers stopped and thought about it, they’d question where that line of good vs. bad is if it’s not as black and white as love vs. hate. That’s the gray area I write in a lot. 🙂

In other words, there are a lot of variations here. And obviously there are no wrong answers. If we want to change our worldview for our own sake (and not just for writing reasons), we can. But as you noted, that’s going to take deeper psychological effort than just “think x instead of y.” Just like our characters, who often go through a worldview change during the course of our story, something big has to trigger it and knock us/them upside the head usually. LOL!

I hope with this understanding, we might be able to stop beating ourselves up about the kind of stories we write. Opposite from you, I know many who write “light” and would like to write “darker.” But again, there’s nothing wrong with our beliefs, so there’s nothing wrong with our writing style. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee April 1, 2014 at 10:26 am

But again, there’s nothing wrong with our beliefs, so there’s nothing wrong with our writing style.

Agreed. The issue isn’t that I think there’s anything wrong with the “dark” approach (particularly since I can be an optimistic pessimist—a counterweight to your pessimistic optimism, perhaps). It’s that I’m well aware how easily a person can produce an echo chamber, where everything is horrific or worst-case scenario.

Lighthearted isn’t contrary to my worldview per se, thanks to the grace of God. It just doesn’t mesh well with the way I approach my worldview.

If I can manage to write lighthearted, then my all-dark stories will come more easily—and they won’t be so emotionally damaging to write, because I’ll have something to counterbalance them with. Some of my stories rattling around up here will be hard enough for readers to appreciate without cringing. But even knowing my theme and end goal for them, I cannot spend a lot of time at once writing them. The emotional effects are visible to any who know me.

It’s amusing that you mention folks who write light wanting to be able to write darker—one of my friends and I both write YA fantasy…on the opposite ends of the spectrum. We beta read for each other as barometers, helping keep each other from skewing too far in our natural direction.

It ends up interesting, because though we both can come up with really bad things to happen to our characters, she’s a bit more reluctant to go really bad, while I have a hard time coming up with not-that-bad-but-problematic things. 🙂

As for nothing being wrong with anyone’s beliefs…I’ve actually known some people who would have no problem murdering others for no particular reason. So I’m going to have to disagree with that one. (And yes, those people are as scary as they sound…and one’s actually my cousin, who’s in prison because he actually did pull the trigger on his parents.)

However, if you’re going to call someone’s beliefs “wrong”, you then must have a standard by which you’re judging their beliefs “wrong”. And because humanity does not agree on a single objective standard by which to judge the rightness or wrongness of beliefs, passing such judgment on another person’s beliefs is only defensible insofar as the parties involved share the same standard.

Which means a person can’t win an argument against someone willing to murder, either, because they’ll necessarily be using a standard that differs from those unwilling to murder.

…Does that make sense? I’m fighting a headache. :/

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Carradee April 1, 2014 at 10:26 am

Edit: I meant “agreed on the writing style”

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 11:51 am

Yep, there’s nothing wrong with our beliefs when it comes to writing style. I figured that’s what you meant, Carradee. 🙂

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 11:50 am

Hi Carradee,

Quite true about the echo chamber effects and how finding a balance might be good for us and our stories. And I don’t disagree about the “wrongness” of some beliefs, as I qualified in my answer to Taurean. My lack of addressing those is my natural optimism trying not to think of those exceptions. 😉

So yes, you made complete sense and I agree with your take–your headache notwithstanding. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee February 23, 2016 at 12:17 pm

As a correction for anyone reading this now: I’ve realized I’m not a pessimist. I’m an optimist. I was just in an incredibly abusive situation. I’m away from them, now.

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Jami Gold February 24, 2016 at 6:42 am

And I’ve been very happy to see the improvements to your situation, my friend. 🙂

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Taurean Watkins April 1, 2014 at 7:27 am

As much as I may come off “Pessimistic” to some regarding my issues with the business side of writing,

I can’t write a story where redemption is impossible, now that doesn’t mean my characters will always take the redemptive road, and they may choose not to take it, or it doesn’t work out, but it’s ALWAYS there. To not have it there would be impossible for me.

In general, though I can see what Caradee’s saying, I believe redemption is always possible, and people are no more ruled by selfishness than any other living thing. To me, the best stories value friendship, we aren’t always born into the best families, but we choose our friends, and the friendships that last show our capacity to see a positive other way our life can be.

Alongside that, I believe

While I don’t want to get too religious here, I doubt Judas knew since childhood he’d grow up to betray Jesus, yet it was ironically how he proved he was “God’s son on Earth” and all that. Still, we all start at the same place, born helpless babies, and by accosciation we all will die at some point, but , it only stands to reason that we could never evolve or survive if we came here only knowing how to be selfish and tyrannical.

That’s like saying all germans were like Hitler during WW2.
Or that all “White folk” are racists circa 1800s to now.
Or feminists who think all males wish to oppress and belittle them.

So, since I have the opposite problem as Caradee, I couldn’t write about a hopelessly selfish person who NEVER thinks of anything but what’s best for him or herself, characters don’t have to be selfish ALL THE TIME!

There are other ways they get themselves into trouble. Being impulsive, keeping secrets, lying to others or themselves, etc.

Regarding what Caradee said above, it’s important to remember there’s a BIG DIFFERENCE between “Selfishness” and “Arrogance”

Just as there’s a difference between being selfless and self-sacrifice to unhealthy extremes that your needs/wants are NEVER acknowledged or met. Something Jami discussed at length here-

http://jamigold.com/2014/03/finding-balance-play-hooky

To use the toddler analogy a moment, that same “Terrible Twos” kid who wants to eat an entire box of cookies all by himself one day, can also just as easily help his mother by getting her car keys from under the table if she dropped them.

(Or just as easily play keep away with them, but not necessarily to be cruel)

My overall point is this, while Caradee makes a fair point that we’re born wanting and (Hopefully) learn how to give not just take, we also need to separate

We’re born to “Take” because we can’t do for ourselves. But that’s why the is so fierce in kids. The more we learn to do for ourselves the less need we have, and again, that’s assuming the model of being considerate, and I’ve know MANY kids in my life who have that naturally, even if their families don’t diligently model it for them.

We don’t always give kids and teens enough credit.

I grew up in a family of heavy smokers, I don’t smoke, and I had many chances to start without being immediately stopped, but I knew however tangentially from the withdrawl symptoms I saw from those around me who smoked, and later learned the mounting health risks that it wasn’t worth whatever numbing of crummy stuff I did go through.

Of all the issues I came here with, I didn’t want to add another, so while I see what Caradee’s saying, I wouldn’t make the blanket statement about people only coming here knowing how to be selfish. I’m sorry if you had to personally see a lot of that, there’s a lot of it in my family, too, but you can’t let it blind you.

Caradee, I’m not trying to change your mind, BTW, I just don’t want whatever pain you endure to overly taint living your own life. It’s so easy at times to think in extremes for the sake of our stories, that we don’t give ourselves a break in our own lives, however subsciously. I know of what I speak here. I’m still on the border of breakdown sometimes.

Remember Caradee, what our stories need is not what we ourselves need or frankly deserve in real life, okay?

That said, I think you can see truth in the opinions of someone opposite your core beliefs, even if you don’t share them.

But I feel we underestimate the capacity for redemption, especially when they’ve been earned, and overestimate one’s capacity for selfishness, and as wonky as my spirituality is, I don’t think you can believe in any kind of God or higher power without also believing redemption is not impossible!

That doesn’t mean it’s EASY to do, but it’s no less difficult when people (or characters) are overall decent people who made mistakes or let anger cloud their judgement, especially when it’s charged up by grief.

So all that said, I believe redemption is always possible, and friendship can overcome sorrow and we’re just as equipped to be kind as much as cruel.

On that note, I should point out that loneliness and solitude aren’t the same. We choose solitude. Loneliness is when our society willfully keeps us out. Choosing sollitude to write isn’t the same is being shut our of connection when we don’t want to be alone. We WANT to connect.

Being an introvert yourself, Jami, am I making some sense here? We may both have panic attacks being “On” in groups, but that doesn’t mean we want to be shut away never bonding with others, either. Right?

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Carradee April 1, 2014 at 8:36 am

I didn’t say people only know how to be selfish. I said we’re naturally selfish. The Venn diagram there is quite different, Taurean. 🙂

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Taurean Watkins April 2, 2014 at 9:44 pm

Well, I was thinking about what you said here-

http://jamigold.com/2014/03/finding-balance-play-hooky/#comment-238491

And in that respect, we have a lot in common, I didn’t have your health issues, but the same academic pressure, half of it was self-inflicted. The key difference is you persevered, I burned out and thus stalled…

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Carradee April 9, 2014 at 10:30 am

Ah! Thanks for clarifying. 🙂

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 9:35 am

Hi Taurean,

“I can’t write a story where redemption is impossible, now that doesn’t mean my characters will always take the redemptive road, and they may choose not to take it, or it doesn’t work out, but it’s ALWAYS there.”

Ooo, great observation! Yes, most of my stories include this element as well. The one novel-length WIP story I can think of that doesn’t present an obvious path for this needs the most work for the villain, nuance-wise, as far as I’m concerned. (Others may have no issues with the story as-is, but this lack makes the story feel wrong in my head–and I didn’t realize that was the underlying issue for me until you mentioned this. Thank you! 🙂 )

I also agree with you that there are many nuances here, like you pointed out with the difference between selflessness and self-sacrificing to an unhealthy level, as well as between loneliness and solitude. For example, being naturally selfish (as Carradee says) could refer to the fact that we’re born helpless and needy, but also that the vast majority of people change themselves over the course of their life to not act selfish.

That’s one reason why there really is no “wrong” answer when it comes to our worldview. Any combination of those beliefs can still result in a “good” person. (Unless we’re psychopaths who thinks everyone deserves to die and intends to make that happen. LOL!) So let’s qualify that to any “normal” combination doesn’t have to be an issue. 😉

Despite that, we often force our characters to change from one worldview to another (usually closer to ours) during a story. In my stories, characters who don’t believe in the potential of love will likely change to believe by the end of the story (sometimes even the villains). That’s where our theme lies.

Our theme is essentially trying to convince readers to consider another view of the world, what to value, what to believe, what to aim for, etc. And that’s why understanding our beliefs helps bring out the themes in our stories. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jan April 1, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Jami, Thank You so much for this. I am a plotter, and I will collect a list of possible themes for a story before I plot an outline. I get so caught up in my list, I get stuck in outlining because of spider webs. I think if I can just “feel” my way through first, (through the seat of my pants?) maybe it would cut through my freeze zone.

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Hi Jan,

Yes, hopefully if you’re aware enough of your core beliefs, you’ll better be able to feel your way through the themes and not get caught up in those webs. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Annie Neugebauer April 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm

This is a very thoughtful post, Jami! I don’t have anything to add, really. I pretty much agree with all you said. Just wanted to let you know I appreciated this topic!

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Hi Annie,

LOL! Yes, I get very philosophical sometimes. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sara Litchfield April 1, 2014 at 4:18 pm

This is such a great, great post. So much food for thought… I’m going to have to read it more than once! I’m just about to rewrite my MS surrounded by my beta feedback (some of which *did* feel like that punch) – so glad I saw this article so I can frame my reactions while I consider the edits. Thanks!

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Hi Sara,

I’m sorry you received some of that gut punch feedback, but I hope this will help you keep an even keel about what you want your story to say. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Robyn LaRue April 1, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Very interesting to me that you wrote this post not long after I found a core values test on line. 🙂 Guess it’s something I should pay attention to, lol.

I fear that one question: What is the theme of your book? I’m not sure how to answer it. Self-sacrifice through love, perhaps, and that’s probably accurate, and hoping knowing MY core values will help me give the short answer if the time comes. 🙂

Good food for thought. Thank you!

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Jami Gold April 1, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Hi Robyn,

Interesting! I want to get that link for the test from you. 🙂

Yes, even though I know my core beliefs, I still struggle to put a story’s themes into a coherent sentence. LOL! Good luck with defining yours and thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung April 2, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Hi Jami,

Haha yeah some people don’t like how they keep repeating themes, and I guess I can understand that. But my personal motto for writing is, “Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore!” XD In other words, let the writing flow out of you. If it always talks about theme x, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s BEAUTIFUL to see repeat themes precisely because they reveal core parts of yourself–your core beliefs and worldviews and values. I like to see our stories as a kind of self-exploration and self-discovery. So we learn about ourselves by writing those stories that repeat our themes.

And I find it especially interesting when our repeated themes start changing–it reveals to you that some transformation is happening in you—your beliefs and worldviews are starting to change! Or at least, your interests and concerns are starting to shift. So I see our stories as chronicling our inner/ spiritual /psychological lives. Stories I wrote when I was in elementary school reflect a very different me from the me reflected in the stories I write right now as a university student who’s about to graduate in two weeks (yay!)

Lol, well maybe I’m just more fascinated by self-discovery than most people so I love repeating themes. XD

Great point that beta readers and readers have their own worldviews so that they might want to change your story to suit THEIR worldviews, not yours. Like you, I have a more optimistic view of humankind, so some readers assume the worst of my characters’ motivations, haha, whereas I believed that my characters’ motivations were a lot more sympathetic, lol.

About the tip of thinking about what stories most spoke to you, I find that task less revealing than simply looking at what stories I actually write. A large variety of things touch me when I read, but when I write, that’s where you see the specific themes I’m personally most interested in–like my obsession with the subjectivity of physical attractiveness, lol. (I don’t think I’ve read any book that focused that strongly on that theme before, or that I recall, at least.)

Oh, I don’t think I’d be able to write from an opposite perspective at all, because one, I wouldn’t even want to write something that I don’t believe in, and two, the something inside me would probably recoil from writing such things that conflict with my worldviews, haha. But I haven’t actually tried writing a story against my own beliefs before, so who knows.

The worldviews/ themes that keep coming up in my stories that I’m aware of right now are:

–friendship is one of the most beautiful things in the world, arguably even cooler than romantic love (at least to me, lol)
–sibling love is also very beautiful
–physical attractiveness is ultimately entirely subjective 😀
–couples who are completely faithful and devoted to each other EXIST. Couples who are still passionately in love with each other after decades of marriage also exist
–art is transcendent, and often reveals interesting things about us or about the world, interesting truths
–everybody should be treated and valued equally, whether they’re rich or poor, male or female, whatever age or race (or species) they are, etc.

That’s all I can think of right now, but I believe there are more.

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Jami Gold April 2, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Hi Serena,

“I like to see our stories as a kind of self-exploration and self-discovery. So we learn about ourselves by writing those stories that repeat our themes.”

Exactly! And as you pointed out, that almost makes any story we write a fiction-based journal for our psychological journey.

You’ve written a lot of different stories, so that helps you focus on things that interest you. However, for these kids–or for those writers just starting out or who struggle with seeing the commonalities–I thought sharing another approach might help. I figured you might get a kick out of this post. 🙂

Thanks for the comment! And congratulations on your upcoming graduation!!!

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Serena Yung April 2, 2014 at 8:06 pm

“You’ve written a lot of different stories, so that helps you focus on things that interest you. However, for these kids–or for those writers just starting out or who struggle with seeing the commonalities–I thought sharing another approach might help. ”

That’s true. I don’t think I even started thinking about themes in my stories until high school, and even then, it was just something vague like: I enjoy writing about friendship, lol.

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Jami Gold April 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! Exactly, but that’s a great start for these kids. 🙂

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Serena Yung April 3, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Hey by the way, yesterday I experimented with writing from the FIRST PERSON perspective of a guy whose worldview completely differs from mine. I.e. he thinks that the crime that he is planning to commit is not wrong! He’s amoral about a crime that most of us here would consider REALLY wrong! So obviously I would despise such a person. Yet, I found it really fun to write in his first person perspective, even though I completely disparage and am disgusted by him, lol!

However, I only wrote it for about 5-10 minutes, so I don’t know if I could sustain his first person POV for the length of an entire novel, haha. Not sure if I could stomach that. The author of Lolita managed though, lol. Yay go Vladimir Nabokov!

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Jami Gold April 3, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Hi Serena,

Interesting! Yes, especially if a character has a strong voice, I could see this being fun to write. The question is, would the character change to be closer to our worldview by the end of the story? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung April 5, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Lol, I was actually wondering what would happen if they didn’t change at all. What if that guy I was writing about was persistently amoral there? :O. What a story that would be! Not sure if I would be able to write that without sickening myself, but who knows.

😀 Great point about a very amoral character possibly having a strong or interesting voice! Well this character does have very amoral thoughts…But that’s more like content rather than voice…Yet I sometimes see WHAT characters say and notice as a part of their voice, i.e. not just HOW they say it. Do you also think that WHAT a character says contributes to the voice as well as HOW they say it?

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Jami Gold April 6, 2014 at 6:28 am

Hi Serena,

Absolutely! Word choice is a huge component of voice. So many words are “judgment” words, even though we don’t think of them that way. Think of: She touched her cheap/sparkling/gaudy/precious (etc.) necklace. Each of those different words would tell us something about the thoughts of the character thinking them.

Deep point of view is all about thinking about what they would think or notice, so when we describe things the way they see them, we’re learning about them through their perspective. Is that what you were asking? 🙂 I hope that makes sense!

Evie Klein Whittingham April 2, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Excellent technique for kids (and adults) on determining what our world views are through remembering what stories resonate with us.
I agree, time and time again when someone wants to recommend a substantial change that doesn’t work for me it’s often because our world views are significantly different. Thankfully that difference of opinion often helps me shape and articulate the scene with greater sensitivity. Even if someone has a substantially different world view they can challenge me to write better as they help me to wrestle the theme down to the ground.
Thanks for the insight on this one. It helps me to appreciate my worst critics!

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Jami Gold April 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Hi Evie,

Great point! Yes, when we encounter feedback from a different viewpoint, that can often be a great reminder to ensure that we’re presenting our views–for lack of a better word–in a fair way. And you’re right, this can help us appreciate our critics as just being different from us. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Evie Klein Whittingham April 2, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Love the Lost in Space example. I vividly remember it too. Too bad we can’t get the video clip here in Canada…

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Jami Gold April 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Hi Evie,

Oh no! I didn’t even think about whether other countries would be able to get that clip. Darn. I looked for it on YouTube first, but no dice. 🙁

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