Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Heart of the Matter: Writing to Theme and Emotional Truth

This installment of the editor's checklist for revising fiction comprises theme and emotional core. First, some definitions: Theme is the story's core topic, subject or concept, and emotional truth is an organic, gut-level connection between readers and the story.

While revising your work, ask yourself these questions about theme and emotional truth:
The heart of the matter?
  • Theme: Can you describe in one sentence what your story is about? It's not easy to encapsulate your work this way, but it's important. A succinct description will help the decision-making process. For example, if you want to introduce, change or eliminate a character, you can ask yourself whether the result would support or detract from the aim of your work. This is a good question to ask in any writing dilemma.
  • Emotional center or heart, emotional truth: A good question to ask here is whether the work as a whole engenders reader empathy. It's not just a question of whether readers will care about what you've written, but whether they would say, "What if this happened to me?"
For the full editor's checklist, see the Online Editing Workshop.

Tips: Describe your story in a 20-word sentence, or logline. For samples, visit ScriptShadow and Writers Store. Ask yourself whether your project creates distance or elicits empathy. Was this your intention? If not, would the work be better served by, for example, an empathetic villain? For an author whose fully developed characters aren't all good or all bad, see Dennis Lehane.

Happy writing!     

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