Contests and Themes

So, I decided to enter another writing contest. ‘Cause the last one went oh so well…. But hey, it is a short story contest this time, and I already had the story written. So maybe I have a shot? Or maybe I am just suffering from delusions of grandeur. But I have yet to decide whether delusions of grandeur or crippling self doubt is worse. So we’ll stick with the former for a while.

Except, I was already stuck. Typical me. I have a plot, characters, and setting. But no theme. No one thing that everything else in the story depends upon. Usually, I would just shrug and perfect the parts that I have down. It is a retelling of a fairy tale after all. How much theme does it actually need?

The right answer is gobs more by the way. It needs a solid theme that drives the story forward. And in this contest, having that solid theme is the difference between first place and being on the cutting room floor.

So here I go, wracking my brain to find a theme in my little story. Note to the wise, it is easier to write a story with the theme already mapped out than to find one in an already completed story.

Also, I don’t want the theme to be just any theme. I want it to be true to the story. I want it to feel as if the story is showing the theme, not that the theme was thrust upon it by an uncaring and unwitting author.

So after wracking my brain for a solid week, I think I found one.

Hope. More specifically, the importance of having hope.

You see, my story is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. With one important difference. Beast is the villain, and Belle is a captive to a faeries caprice. Not exactly a light read.

In the beginning of the story, Belle has given up hope of escaping. To the point that all she wants is to survive each day. Though the idea of a final escape is becoming more and more palatable.

I knew that before I even thought about what theme I had. I also knew that in the end she hopes that Gaston has actually managed to save her. (another twist!)

Those two key parts were what unlocked my story’s theme for me. All I had to have to do now is enhance what is already there. Take the hints I have and flesh them out into a living, breathing story.

Easier said that done. Obviously. But the hardest part is over, the finding of the slippery little thing.

If you happen to be in the same boat as me, trying to find a theme in a story that is already finished, here is my advice.

Take stock of who your character is in the beginning of the story and where they are in their personal journey, then do the same with them at the end of your story. What has changed? And why did it change?

Where your character has changed is where your theme lies. Maybe your character learned to trust someone else. Maybe they conquered some fears. Take that and expand upon it, make that change become a journey that weaves in and out of everything else in your story. And voila, your have a rock solid theme.

Now take that story and enter the Story Embers contest! And don’t bother looking for me, my story will most likely be in the category of a procrastinated master piece that was forgotten to be entered. Whoops.

Shaina Merrick

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