Thursday, April 13, 2023

Give Your Story Meaning with Inner Conflict and Theme

By Rayne Hall, @RayneHall

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series

JH: No matter the size of your story, a theme can deepen it and make it stronger. Rayne Hall shares tips on finding and developing your story’s theme.

Do you want your story to be meaningful and memorable? Then give it a theme.

Although there are many ways of creating and exploring a theme, here's the one I find the easiest as well as the most powerful.

'One Purpose/Ideal/Value' versus 'Another Purpose/Ideal/Value'.

For example:
  • Love versus Safety
  • Patriotism versus Friendship
  • Faith versus Integrity
  • Honesty versus Compassion
If you have already developed a plot, maybe even a full draft, and are looking for a way to give your story depth, look at the what’s already in there. For example, if a character stays loyal to a friend who doesn’t deserve it, then ‘loyalty’ could be one of those values. Maybe the story is about a group of people seeking safety in grave danger? Then ‘safety’ could be another component of your theme.

Also consider your main character’s personality. If you’ve described her as 'musical, impatient, ambitious and loyal', then 'Ambition versus Loyalty' makes a powerful theme, as well as intense inner conflict for that character.

This type of theme gives your story meaning and depth. It will keep the reader thinking long after they've finished reading the story. The reader will consider how she would have decided and acted, and compare it with how the character responded.

A story doesn't need to explore a deep theme, and the theme doesn't need to be of the 'one purpose/value/ideal versus another' type. But this approach works wonders. Try it.

Now consider your plot. Does your story have any situations in which the main character could be torn between those two values? Play them up, flesh them out, make the most of them. By adhering to one, the character is betraying the other. This inner conflict can lead to heart-wrenching dilemmas.

Try to explore the theme in the outer conflict, too. A good way of achieving this is by using two characters who are both close to the POV, with each representing one of the values, and the POV is caught between them.

Another Way to Create a Theme

Some writers like to weave a story around a proverb or saying, e.g. ‘Love conquers all’ or ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ You may want to try this approach one day and see if it inspires you.

Personally, I prefer a theme based on the dilemma of two important values, because this provides the story with an instant, powerful inner conflict.

Novice Mistake to Avoid

Resist the urge to get preachy about the subject and to over-explain the meaning.

Pro Tip: Long stories may have a subplot that explores the same conflict from a different angle.

Think of the story you’re currently working on, or an idea you want to develop into a story. What ‘value versus value’ conflict could work? Tell us about it in the Comment Section.

Rayne Hall lives in Bulgaria where she has created an eco-project for organic gardening. She has adopted several rescued pets and trains cats. Yes, cats can be trained – if they want.

She is the author of over seventy books, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Her books have been published by several publishers in several countries, and translated into several languages.  A trained publishing manager with more than thirty years’ experience in the industry, she also publishes her own books and champions indie-publishing for authors. 

She edits and publishes short story anthologies, mostly in the Horror, Gothic and Fantasy genres. Her bestselling Writer’s Craft series (the ‘blue guides’) teaches writers advanced and professional skills. 

About Writing and Publishing Short Stories

Do you want to entertain readers with short tales? Do you want to know how to construct a powerful story plot that grabs the readers’ attention and won’t let them go?

Step by step, this guide shows you how to
  • Find ideas that make great fiction
  • Build solid plot structures
  • Craft great characters, compelling conflicts and sparkling dialogue
  • Keep stories from growing too long
  • Sell your stories for publication
  • and much more.
Author Rayne Hall shares insider tips, such as how to win writing contests and how to make sure your story catches an anthology editor’s attention.

This book is structured as a self-study course with lectures, professional tips, hints about novice mistakes to avoid and practical assignments which will guide you to write at least one complete story.

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