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”.

And…

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!!

K.M Weiland’s TEMPLATE to create the backbone of a story using THEME (1st part).

I’ve been studying story structure for some time now and I have to say, this is predominantly in screenwriting theory, that almost all the time, the learning process focuses on two aspects, the character’s main goal, and the plot. Current writing methods and available courses tend to revolve around the protagonist and their journey. Seems obvious, right? But, taking this route don’t be surprised if you end up with a series of disjointed events happening to someone for some reason.

Why is this? You may ask, well, I would say it’s mostly because there’s a misunderstanding about what the theme is and what is its impact on the story as a whole. Put it simply, the theme is everything, the characters, the events happening, even the decoration in the walls is a reflection of a core idea, repeating itself infinitely and giving the spectator a sense of “patterns” appearing again and again, talking to them about an idea the author is trying to convey.

Now ask yourself, but be truly honest about it… How can your story resonate with the audience if you don’t know what you’re talking about? Because you may come up with a plot that “makes sense”, especially if you’re reflecting on movies you’ve already seen. Maybe you’re telling yourself “I feel this is talking about something”, you may even feel there’s a pattern here and there, that’s great! But are you really in command of what’s going on? Are you discovering something intuitively or are you designing something like a creator?

Is there any way to be sure?

Of course! That’s the whole reason we’re talking about this, and K.M Weiland is here to give us a hand. In her book “Writing your Story’s Theme” she presents to us a template which we can use to figure out our story, but not using plot beats or prefixed structures, but by choosing our theme and using it to figure out these patterns, because these patterns are glimpses of the truth, we, as authors, want to convey.

So, let’s dive into this template as we also try to come up with a story to support the idea that it works!

The template goes like this…

Story’s Big Truth (main theme)

Your core theme idea is expressed as a premise. The universal principle of the story.

Example: Hope gives people a reason to live.

As you can see, it works best when you establish it as an intentional statement.

Story’s Big Lie

The flip side of the coin is the opposition to the big truth.

Example: Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

Now, as you can see, by choosing these two general aspects of your story, a theme expressed as a Big Truth and a counter theme expressed as a Big Lie, what you just did is define the conflict in the story.

This is important because, from this point forward, every time you’re thinking about conflict…

  • Characters you choose and their involvement in the story.
  • Character dialogues.
  • Plot beats.
  • Setting
  • Etc.

You have to keep in mind the decision you initially did with the Big Truth and the Big Lie. If, when adding something to the story, you’re not talking about these core elements, you’re drifting and wasting time and space.

Okay! Are you getting the idea? I hope you do. Let’s bring our initial statements back for a moment:

  • Big Truth: Hope gives people a reason to live.
  • Big Lie: Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

The template continues with…

Character’s specific Truth:

It’s any of the characters you choose a specific version of the Big Truth, and it’s specific regarding your story.

Example:

Main character’s truth:

“Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

Character’s specific Lie:

This is one of the most important elements of your story, period. It is also known as “the lie the character believes”. It branches from the character’s ghost/wound and it’s the seed of their want, which is the pillar of the plot and the antagonist and the setting. So yeah, this may be the most important information you’ll use to build your story, so treat it as such!

But hey… ease up a bit on the pressure, is not like you’re putting all your life at risk by choosing, right?

Remember the Big Lie?

“Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.”

Normally, the relation between the protagonist and the antagonistic forces depends on the type of story you want to convey. From a character POV there are only three types of stories:

  • Positive Arc Story
  • Negative Arc Story
  • Flat Arc Story

We’re not going to talk about them at this point, let’s just state that according to our main character’s specific truth, we can infer that we’re dealing with a positive arc.

So, if we’re dealing with a positive arc, we have to start our journey from the polar opposite, from a negative place.

Now, what could be the negative of…

“Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

                                                                          Maybe…

                                                                                         “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.

Look closely…

The relation between the Big Truth and the Character’s specific truth is stated like this:

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

Now, let’s do the same with the counterpart.

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

Great! We’ve already designed the core idea behind our conflict, the engine upon which all of our decisions and plot making will be based.

Next time we’ll continue our exercise, using Weiland’s template, to go deeper into our story, building upon this strong foundation and moving into more specific details that slowly but surely will help us deliver a powerful story, keeping our theme always in the back of our head as guidance in this treacherous journey of fiction writing.

A QUICK REVIEW of the 4 most important CHARACTERS in a STORY.

Thinking about the theme of a story, there are many ways to go about finding and choosing the characters that will traverse the plot in order to shape our premise through their respective arcs. So, what better than to review the 4 most important characters you’ll ever use in storytelling to wrap up this whole character/theme chapter.

Let’s do it!

But, who are these important characters we’re talking about?

  • The protagonist
  • The antagonist
  • The sidekick
  • The love interest

Now, let’s quickly review them one by one, first we’ll go about those who we’ve extendedly discussed in previous entries, so we’ll just briefly discuss them.

  1. THE PROTAGONIST: represents the main thematic principle, meaning that their emotional journey, which is also the main engine of the story, culminates in the realization of the thematic truth.
  2. THE ANTAGONIST: Represents the flipside of the protagonist’s thematic principle.

Okay, so we already knew a lot about those two, but what about the others?

Let’s see!

3. THE SIDEKICK: Proves the value of the protagonist’s thematic principle, mostly through reflection, which is important because of its differences from the protagonist and makes a strong argument as to why the protagonist has to fight and win.

4. THE LOVE INTEREST: Functions as an impact character, someone who guides the protagonist. They do this by symbolically rewarding (drawing nearer to) or punishing (drawing away from) the protagonist, depending on how aligned the protagonist is with the story’s truth.

That’s it!

And just to give a proper ending to this topic, let’s remember that characters often work not towards a real solution but to a perceived solution. Also, characters frequently grapple with a problem that is ultimately recognized as only a symptom of the real problem.

How to use THEME to build SUPPORTING CHARACTERS that add to your TRUTH.

There’s something to say about supporting characters, think about it as conversations. Yeah, conversations, you know? Like when you’re having problems and you go and ask someone else. They will reflect upon your problem, find their own take on it and offer it back for you to understand a different approach to it.

At their core, supporting characters do exactly this, they support your truth, they expand upon it, offer nuance and possibilities.

They’re the greatest opportunity a writer has to deepen the complexity, maturity and subliminal power of your story’s thematic premise. Just remember, the biggest the character’s role in the story, the more explicit its relationship with the theme should be.

Yet, any character you introduce is an opportunity to reflect upon the theme.

Let’s take for example the following theme.

Being brave no matter what is the key to conquer fear

We have our protagonist, they’re coward, right? That wound would place them as far from the thematic truth as possible (the farther the deeper the conflict).

So, which type of supporting characters could we use to expand upon the theme?

  • A character who doesn’t experience fear for example, are they brave?
  • A character who lost the battle against fear, what can they tell about the theme?
  • A character who battles blindly because of fear, this one can also guide us to be precise in what we choose to battle.

As you can see, allowing each character to approach the subject from different angles gives you a plethora of material to play with in exploring every aspect of your theme.

Just keep your thematic question in mind before deciding upon them. In our case would be something like…

“Is bravery enough to conquer fear?”

Now, are all of your supporting characters answering this question in some way or another? Usually, some of them should argue for it, others should argue against it.

Simplifying the theme into a question gives you the possibility of using the supporting characters to reflect upon it, offering various answers.

One key aspect of supporting characters and their relation with the protagonist, stands from the inherent idea of the protagonist’s arc being the living proof of the thematic premise. Because of this, every other iteration of the truth, meaning all other reflections supporting characters offer, is considered to be a deviation in the protagonist’s path to the truth.

Now, about characterization, you really need to make sure your character’s personal mindsets are demonstrated in scene level, their actions influencing the plot. Pay attention to their scene motivation, their reason to be there (as characters), which stands from their desires.

You should at least give them desire and a plan of action for how they’re going to obtain their goals. And also keep in mind that, most of the time, their goals become serious resistance to the protagonist’s own goals.

Before you get all stressed about it (why should you, aren’t you a writer?) take into consideration that for the vast majority of supporting characters, you can get away with hitting just two major beats:

The setup; introduction of their lie/flaw/want (goal).

The payoff; a hint at their moment of truth.

In conclusion; at the deepest of story levels, the minor characters are there to provide thematic representation of your protagonist’s various fates.