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Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat? Featured

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Does Your Novel Have A Heartbeat?

PART I of The 8-Part BRING YOUR NOVEL TO LIFE Series

You’ve read through what you’ve written—your first few scenes, your first chapter, your completed novel—and you’ve discovered that your words don’t move you. They don’t make you want to keep reading. They don’t make you laugh or cry. If writing is bleeding on the page, well, you might have scratched yourself, but you don’t need a transfusion. And you don’t know what went wrong.

When you started writing, did you know what story you were telling? This is trickier than it sounds. You might have known your characters, you might have known your world, and you might have known your plot…but even with this much planning done, it’s entirely possible that you had not yet located your deep layer, the heart of your story, the engine that drove you to write it in the first place.

Odds are very good you did not know your theme.

Your theme is nothing more and nothing less than the heart of a novel. It is not a grade-school exercise in tedium, that single droning sentence you wrote that told your reader what you were going to tell him. In a novel, your theme is a living, vibrant, critical thing. It is your particular passion in this particular novel summed up in a handful of words. It is what you need to say.

Need. That’s the critical thing in a theme. If you’re writing novels, if you are doing something this complex and challenging, you’re doing it because something in you needs to write. You have something to express, some particular point of view, some set of life experiences, some driven hunger that you must put down on paper. You NEED. And you need to say what you need.

Maybe it is: In spite of having survived heartbreak, I believe in true love. Or: I believe good can triumph over greater evil. Or: If I were King of Everything, this is the way the world would be.

Your plot is the map of your story. Your theme is the map of your soul, and it is where your characters will find their direction, their flaws, their hungers, and their own passions. They only breathe with your breath, and they only bleed with your blood. Your plot may be Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl, but your theme—your take on the world based on your life, your own hopes and aspirations, your own beliefs—might be Chubby Bald Guy Deserves the Love of a Wonderful Woman.

You have themes in you. You’ve built them from love and courage, but you’ve built them from anger and fear, too. You live with them every day, when you’re muttering that argument you had with your spouse or colleague, designing better comebacks; when you’re watching the boss cheat someone and you’re getting furious about it; when you’re watching a disaster and telling yourself, Someone could have prevented that; when you’re hearing the latest political garbage and thinking, This is not the way the world should be.

I could do this better. I WOULD do this better.

And so you write.

You have rich, powerful, compelling, passionate themes boiling inside you. You have something worth saying. Now you just need to know how to figure out what it is, and how to get it on the page.

In Part II: How To Find Your Novel’s Pulse, you’ll learn how to identify your themes, and figure out which are worth pursuing.


Full-time novelist Holly Lisle has published more than thirty novels with major publishers. Her next novel, THE RUBY KEY, (Orchard Books) will be on shelves May 1st. You can receive her free writing newsletter, Holly Lisle's Writing Updates at http://hollylisle.com/newsletter.html


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