“Your theme is a Petri dish and experimental bubble in which you’re going to test and explore your theme and premise.” Ted Dekker
In The Creative Way, author Ted Dekker instructs writers to develop theme by looking within to the questions, struggles and victories they are experiencing in their own life. Every aspect of your story must serve your theme. And never to cheat by forcing a conclusion, but rather be vulnerable. Experience and explore where the story takes you, be open to surprises and let go of your own preconceived endings. “Everyone is dealing with the same questions in life, so they will connect,” he writes.
Creating connections through stories has been my goal for my writing as long as I can remember. As a very shy child, books were ways to explore my world safely. Looking back on the books I connected with most, I began to see a theme of the lost being found.
In my childhood favourite book, Are You My Mother by P.D Eastman, I flew with a baby bird hatched in an empty nest who goes searching for a mother it’s never seen and is rescued by a bulldozer that drops it back into its nest where mother soon appears.
In elementary school my favourite books were Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and A Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon. Reading Charlotte’s Web, I cheered for Wilbur, the pig, as his lonliness lifted when Charlotte, the spider, befriended him and webbed encouraging messages for the world to see. Imagining Chester, the lost cricket, and his songs blessing the crowds in Times Square, The Cricket in Times Square showed me that friends can come from the most unlikely of places.
In middle school, I fell in love with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s character Anne of Green Gables, an orphan girl adopted by a brother and sister who wanted a boy but ultimately wins them over and finds friendship and love. And the year my birthday told me I was a teenager, I journeyed with sensitive Ponyboy in The Outsiders (S. E. Hinton), as he navigated being poor, tried not to get beat up by the rich kids, sought love from his big brother and a place where he belonged.
Lately my writings of personal essay and creative non-fiction have also had the thread of loss. After my dad passed away, I wrote Steering Dad, a story of navigating Dad who lost his eyesight at age 60. I wrote other essays on the loss of my mother, my best-friend, my brother, and the loss of children no longer living at home. I wrote a long Creative Non-Fiction essay on the fading memories of being a young mother in the Yukon and called it A Mother’s Gold. In each of these pieces, although recommended to have a theme before writing, the theme found me.
I cannot say for sure it is this way for all of us writers, but I do believe that Ted Dekker has it right. Our own wrestlings within is where our themes can develop and through our writings, whether fiction or non-fiction, we explore resolution to our own Petri dish of struggles and questions. A story that may even lead the lost to being found.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Lynn J Simpson is a mid-life gal doing life a step at a time with faith, hope, and love. You can read more of her reflections at Keeping It Real.