K.M Weiland’s TEMPLATE to create the backbone of a story using THEME (2nd part).

Okay, so last week we managed to find our story foundation using the theme template, remember? And making the effort to keep these ideas in mind while moving forward will make a ton of difference in the end product, I promise you that.

So, let’s continue!

But first, let’s make a quick recap of our previous endeavor, shall we? What we have so far is:

Big truth and character-specific truth:

If generally “Hope gives people a reason to live”, then specifically, “Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.


Big lie and character-specific lie:

If generally “Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives”, then specifically, “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.

Let’s think about our statements for a moment. Because, as we said before, contained in these sentences lies the conflict in our story. What we have here is a struggle between two POVs about the same idea, HOPE.

Does hope give you a reason to live or is it just an illusion that leads you to waste your life and suffer? This is the core movement of our narrative, solving this question is the goal of the protagonist’s journey and the reason for his change.

So, if the answer to this question is the goal for the character, that’s another way of talking about their want, which is our next step in K.M. Weiland’s theme template.

The thing the character wants

This one is a tricky fellow.

Theory indicates that the want is a representation of a larger, more abstract desire (e.g., to be loved), but it manifests as a concrete plot-based goal for the protagonist.

Remember our previous question?

Does hope give you a reason to live or is it just an illusion that leads you to waste your life and suffer?

Now think about it, what kind of person would be questioning themselves about these things? Let’s say our protagonist wants to find meaning in their lives.

Now, to find meaning in life is an abstract, larger desire. Let’s try to bring it down into a concrete plot-based goal. To do this, we need to at least know a bit about the setting of our story, because, at this point, we’re talking about actual plot elements.

Now, where do we find more specific information about our story if we haven’t written anything plot-related yet? As you remember, we do have a piece of specific information, our character-specific truth, and lie.

  • Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice.
  • Hope can make you suffer and get you killed.

Some elements are already talking to us about the setting of the story, words like injustice or killed talk to us about the genre, about tone, right?

If our abstract, larger desire is to find meaning in life, using John Truby’s levels of desire lines we can land on our plot-based goal:

Desire line                                       Plot-based goal

Survive                                              Escape from prison.

Take revenge                                   Kill who wrongfully accuses you

Achieve something                        Achieving changes in the legal system

Explore a world                               Travel against all odds

Catch a criminal                              Stop the person destroying your life

Find the truth                                  Clear your name from false accusation

Gain love                                          Find love against the wishes of society

Bring justice and freedom           Liberate people from injustice

Save the republic                            Over-throne a corrupt government

Save the world                                Defeat an alien invasion.

Okay, for the sake of simplicity let’s choose “escape from prison” as the thing the character wants, so we can move into our next stop in K.M. Weiland’s Theme Template!

The thing the character needs

As the character goes through the plot and execute actions to conquer obstacles in their way to the goal, they will also learn some truth about themselves. This is what’s often thought of as the thing the character needs, which is to understand/change/overcome some aspect of their own lives.

Ultimately, we’re talking about an understanding of the truth (specific to the character) but it’s also usually represented by a more concrete and specific outer-world objective.

In our story, the thing the character wants is to escape prison, as they do so (or try to, anyway) they will inevitably face some harsh realities about themselves. What if they have to leave someone behind to achieve a certain goal? What if they have to betray an ally? In their drive to gain the thing they want, the protagonist will come to understand the limits of their morals, how far are they willing to go. In doing so they will eventually come to terms with some deep truth about themselves that will change them and their lives completely.

So, how can you choose the thing the character needs? In a way you already have it, yet it’s expressed as an outer idea. Yes, it’s the character-specific truth.

  • Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice.

But, how can we express this idea in a way that speaks about our character and give us a sense of the plot?

Let’s recollect the information we already have.

What do we know about the character?

Well, we know he’s in a positive arc (refer to the 1st part of this topic if you didn’t read it here), which means they will start the story in a negative position, given by the character-based lie:

  • Hope can make you suffer and get you killed.

Okay, so what do we know about the plot? As we stated before, the setting of it is a prison, and the thing the character wants is to escape from it, right?

So, what truth can a person, who deep inside believes hope can get you killed, need to escape from a prison, from which they were unjustly imprisoned?

Taking into consideration that our theme revolves around hope, and that the character-specific truth is “hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”, we could say that the thing the character needs is:

  • To understand that his actions not only reignited hope inside him but also gave hope to others, shifting the balance of injustice inside prison.

Thus, making their last movement towards escaping, inevitable.

As we will see in our next session, the thing the character needs still needs some fine-tuning and we will use the Ghost/Wound to do so. Until then… GOOD LUCK IN WRITING!!