I can hear the impatient whimpers: when are we going to get to the actual writing tips of these author tips?
Soon, very soon. Taking time to establish these “non-writing” points will pay off in the end. I promise. But first, let's take a moment to consider Theme, Story Question and Logline, three things that most writers loath to attend to.
Because they're hard.
They all want the answer to What is your story about? in one quick and easy sentence, but accomplish something different.
Theme: Themes don’t have to be complex. They can be as simple as “love conquers all”, or “the survival of the fittest.”
What is it and why is it important? Theme is the essence of your story. It's a guidepost. A lamp in the darkness. The north star. Knowing your theme helps with a subtle cohesive thread that ties all your scenes together. Understanding your theme helps to prevent getting off track and writing scenes and chapters you'll only have to cut later because they don't belong.
Clear as mud?
Let's look at some examples. I'm going to use my own books because I know them the best and pinpointing theme is tough enough when you're the one writing the book!
HARRY POTTER: youth and inexperience can bring down a powerful villain
HUNGER GAMES: fighting for your family and country
GINGERBREAD MAN: finding the hero within
PERCEPTION: our perceptions of people and even our world are often wrong.
Therefore, Harry Potter isn’t going to go off and start his own wizard school, fall in love and forget about Hogwarts – at least not until after the villain is taken down. Everything he does, every decision he makes, all the complications in his life lead to one thing: Voldemort.
Marlow in Gingerbread Man is a self-professed geek. Skinny, nervous, and uncomfortable around girls. He’s the anti hero, forced into circumstances that call him to do courageous and self-sacrificing things he never would imaged he would do.
Story Question: The end of every story holds the answer to at least one main question. It's not knowing the answer to this question that keeps the reader turning pages. If you don't have an easily discernible question your reader will drop the book because they can't figure out what it’s about. Why bother reading on? Or if the story question is clear, but is answered too quickly, then again, why bother reading on? Knowing the story question will help you with pacing.
HUNGER GAMES: Will Katniss win?
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN: Will Rachel get remember what happened?
Secondary question: Will she figure out who killed Megan?
PERCEPTION: Will Zoe find out what happened to her brother?
Secondary question: Will Zoe and Noah fall in love even though they both know it's a really bad idea?
SUN & MOON: Will Katja and Micah overcome their differences to find a happily ever after?
GINGERBREAD MAN: Will Marlow and Sage figure out who the villain is?
Secondary question: If so, will they find out before another person (or they) dies?
Logline: This is actually the one sentence hooky idea covered earlier. Boiling down your story to one line is important because this will keep your story from rabbit-trailing all over the place. Think about the TV menu. How many times have you decided to watch a movie (or not) based on the one sentence description? This will also help you when it's time to write your blurb (aka jacket copy or back cover description).
HUNGER GAMES: Girl has to fight to the death to save her sister.
MAZE RUNNER: Boy has to find his way through a maze to escape captivity.
HARRY POTTER: Boy has to accept his calling as a boy wizard to defeat the evil one.
A FAULT IN OUR STARS: A girl terminally ill with cancer falls for a boy with one leg.
PERCEPTION: Genetically altered girl needs the help of a natural to find her missing brother.
Once you know your logline you can finally answer that dreaded question: WHAT'S YOUR BOOK ABOUT?