Breaking from my usual I 8 Wednesdays to feature author,
Jennifer Erin Valent. I’ve appreciated connecting with Jennifer online. It’s
wonderful to engage with an author who demonstrates such devoted attention to
craft and a keen ability to invoke questions in me about how I’d handle certain
situations. I love how she makes me think!
I’m excited to share with you her thoughts on theme today…
From the time we’re kids we have an obsession with why. Why can’t I stick that up my nose?
Why do I have to study geometry? Why didn’t I get that job? Why am I here? Why
does cheesecake go straight to my hips?
That sort of need for a reason makes up a huge part of our
humanity. We like to have explanations for the things that happen to us, for
what we do, for what others do.
So if you say you want to write a novel, I’ll ask the
Is it an overactive imagination? A passion for story? An
addiction to words and how they’re put together? All good… all things that can
make you the writer you’ve always wanted to be. But these things can also be
distractions, and if you’re anything like me, all that creativity spilling out over
the keyboard can make for a muddled mess.
That’s where a theme can be very handy.
Wikipedia defines theme
as “the central topic, subject, or concept the author is trying to point
out.” I love this definition because it’s active. It tells us that a story has
a specific purpose and that the author’s job is to develop that purpose
To my way of thinking, theme can help a writer with two
I don’t necessarily know the theme of a novel as soon as I
start to construct it. Oftentimes, I start with the characters and setting and
develop my ideas for the main plot with their help before I ever touch on
theme. But it was a different situation all around with my current
work-in-progress. This time I was struggling to leave behind characters I had
been with throughout an entire trilogy. I had no idea how to continue to write
in the same vein with completely new characters and settings. So I settled on
the theme as my starting point. What impact did I want to make with this tale?
Who did I want to speak to and why? Did it have to do with friendship? Justice?
Redemption? By the time I had figured out the core of what I hoped to achieve,
I had people and places and words flooding my brain.
When it comes to keeping the plot flowing forward at the
right pace, theme can keep us accountable. It’s easy for me to wander down
rabbit trails when I write… and that’s not to say it’s always a bad thing. Discovering
different avenues as I work can take me deeper into plot development (even if
it amounts to some killer editing sessions in the future!) But it really is
important to make sure that the events I create continue along a clear path and
have some purpose in the overall storyline, even if it’s simply to advance the
characters in order to bring them to my desired conclusion.
Now, clearly, every crumb of a story
cannot be directly related to theme
or else we’d end up with a textbook. A novel needs shading and nuance. It can’t
be one note. But all of those words and phrases and events should take readers
by the hand and lead them down one winding but continuous path towards that
feeling of fulfillment when they turn the last page.
So when you sit down to write, before you dive head first
into the pool of imagination and whimsy, try asking yourself why. Look inside
your soul before you look inside your mind. And once you’ve determined your
reason for writing – whether you want to change the world or just make it smile
– stick to it! String that purpose throughout your story like paper dolls.
Leave those readers wondering why they shouldn’t turn back
to page one and start the journey all over again.
Jennifer Erin Valent is the award-winning author of Fireflies in December and its sequels Cottonwood Whispers and Catching Moondrops. She lives in central Virginia where she has worked as a nanny for nearly twenty years. A lifelong resident of the South, her surroundings help to color the scenes and characters she writes. To find out more visit her website at jennifervalent.com
Several weeks ago I asked you what women want. Security
received the majority of votes. Next in line—significance.
My confessed Holy Grail.
Flip it and you get the big lie. You know, the one that
whispers at your weakest moments “You don’t matter.”
Pretty confident we’ve all heard that one a time or two.
The best way to fight off that whisper stab is to discern
what realistically and truthfully attributes to our worth. By weeding out distractions
and not allowing ourselves to be misled by validation holograms we position
ourselves to better understand our place here.
What’s a validation hologram?
Anything that fools us into thinking our time on earth is
all about us. Anything that fuels our sense of pride.
I know I felt it too.)
Our natural inclination is to achieve significance by
filling ourselves up—gorging on success, momentary highs, affirmation or popularity.
However, acting inversely and counter intuitively by pouring out—serving,
giving, guiding, leading courageously, and encouraging, we end up making boku
deposits in our bank of significance.
These acts of love can never be taken back. Just as the
opposite holds true.
Here’s a crazy thought: What if our words and actions
trigger a butterfly effect through time? What if our investment in someone years ago still
impacts that person in ways we’ll never know? What if the sacrificial kindness
we bestowed upon a stranger back in 1985 inspired that young woman to incite
incredible change in Africa? What if…
I’m thinking of Max Lucado’s memorable character Punchinello.
I’m thinking of a children’s book about filling buckets and Bible verses. I’m
thinking about all the simple messages that communicate what I’m trying to
today—this path of life stuff I still wrestle with and care to explore further.
What reminds you of
your significance here?
agent, Chip MacGregor shares some profound words about significance in this post
Every Friday I’m going to ask a question. The questions I
choose might be ambiguous on purpose. The goal is to have you answer the
question according to your beliefs, where you’re at in life or a circumstance
that might have recently impacted you. The only thing I ask is that you provide
an explanation for why you answered the way you did.
It’s my hope to understand you better through this and also
to gain a greater understanding of humanity and how people make decisions.
Silent love or Noisy adoration?
*photos by stock.XCHNG
**taking next week off to pretend I’m attending a
conference. ;-) See you on the 24th with a “Significant” post
This past summer was a splintery season. Not even sure where
to start, but skidding the surface there’s the neighbor serving a hefty prison sentence,
unexpected blows from within our church, tension with family members, and grappling
with loved ones facing physical and mental struggles.
Not to mention I
haven’t felt this spiritually beat up since a time of great loss in my life
seven years ago.
If you’ve been coming around here for a while you know I’m
not one to let splinters remain stuck. I’ve officially entered a season of splinter removal. And
the pain on the way out mimics the piercing on the way in.
Here’s what I’m doing about it (8 Things I’m Working to
Improve in My Life Right Now + a bonus lesson):
Putting Down the Gavel
Not judging someone based on flubbed words. Searching for a
Timberjack Harvester to help me extract the ginormous log from my own eyes.
None of this half-assed all smiles and rainbows stuff.
Forgiving like this is torrential hailstorm smack me in the face painful.
Loving family right where they’re at. Loving everyone right
where they’re at.
Saying what I mean and meaning what I say.
Fighting spiritual distractions. Taking up my sword of the
Spirit and holding firm to my shield of faith (oh yeah, I’m all over Ephesians
Leaving Bitterness to
Citrus Peels & Dark Chocolate
Identifying areas of hurt and dealing with them, not letting
them fester and mold into bitterness.
It threw me when I kept getting this message from God.
Finally I understood the meaning. Let go of things that aren’t eternal or
encouraging. Care less about the petty, the cutting, the discouraging, things
that will seem insignificant a year or two from now.
In God I Trust
It feels like I’m the eternal unfinished novel with this
I Like to Move It,
Moving on when time calls for it. Not dwelling, stewing, or
reflecting like that Narcissus dude that got zapped into a flower.
Not a single pain-free process of splinter removal up there.
But some of it has sloughed off surprisingly quickly, like that splinter you
cringed to think of being yanked from the pad of your foot only to squeeze your
eyes shut and open them to see it pinched between your father’s fingers. He
took it. All of it up there (up there in this post and up there on the cross).
By his death he removed every last splinter and every splinter that has yet to
Such freedom in that. I can run free.
Ever been through a
specific season of splinter removal?
*photo by stock.XCHNG
**I'm also relearning math as apparently there are NINE things listed up there. Eh well.
Dark alleys, leering stares, gossipy rumors, circled fat,
salmonella poisoning, terrorist attacks, rapists, murderers, abusers,
molesters, cultures that devalue women, risk of having Alzheimer’s, child
getting Lyme disease, genocide, female mutilation, the sex trade, child getting
West Nile virus, gangs, child developing Autism, mafia, house catching on fire,
disease ravaging our bodies, kidnappers, exploited on social networking sites,
Big Brother, germs, spiritual warfare, noises in the woods, getting lost…
This is an incomplete list of what we fear. Barely
scratching the surface with those.
I took your comments from Friday’s post titled, “What DoWomen Want” and found the most prevalent answer kept focusing on security.
Based on your input it became obvious—women want to feel safe.
Time for a little psychology 101. Did you know that on
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid the need listed just above our basic
physiological needs being met (hunger, sleep, etc.) is safety?
What threatens our safety as women—what weakens our ability
to feel secure?
Besides the very real danger some men present, and even some
women offenders, our greatest opposition when we’re fighting to feel safe is oftentimes
our own fear.
Women are masterminds at worrying. Michael Hyatt wrote
a thought-provoking post about how worry and imagination are like two sides of
the same coin and he also highlights the profound differences between the two.
I wonder if some of us cry wolf in particular scenarios so
habitually that we play out, in twisted strokes of misfortune, our own
self-fulfilling prophesy. We imagine ourselves to death. There are proven
statistics detailing how much damage stress can do to the body.
All this to say there’s no denying horrific events occur
every second. The world can go dark in a flash. Our fears are grounded in
glimpses of reality.
There’s a book every woman would benefit from reading
called, The Gift of Fear by Gavin de
Becker. The book helps educate women about the difference between true fear and
unwarranted fear. I’ve reflected on this book numerous times when I’ve faced
potentially precarious situations.
Because I love advocating for women I’m wrapping up today’s
post with a list of things that contribute to women feeling safe.
Statistics, resources, places to go for help, the unlikelihood
of acquiring said disease or having our child kidnapped can diffuse the
firestorm of worry that explodes in our minds. Understanding what we need to
focus on helps us let go of all of the extraneous weight on our shoulders.
Strength in Numbers
Women, we are such a phenomenal and valuable resource for
one another. We’d benefit beyond belief by uplifting and encouraging one
another in lieu of playing competitive, jealousy-based games.
Every so often repeat these two words: Reality check. One of
the best ways to face down our fears is to gain a sense of perspective.
One of hardest, but most important ones. Truth really does
set us free. You are not alone. And you
need not stay stuck.
Martial arts, yoga, kickboxing classes, schooling, learning
to read, speaking out on behalf of women, telling the truth, writing
storiescommunicating issues and themes
important to women, volunteering, giving, giving, giving.
Hope & Faith
This one goes deep for me. My way of viewing the world
changed drastically when I understood for the first time this is not my home. And
as hope flaps its wings inside me I embrace and live in the truth that nothing
can stop me. Including fear.
What makes you feel
secure? Insecure? Are you able to turn worry into creative and positive visualizing?
On Monday I told you I’d be bringing the meat and potatoes
today. Well, I’m bringing it.
My husband and I enjoy watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The host, Guy Fieri, engages with
restaurant owners with entertaining humorous flare and a keen understanding of
all things grease related. Normally, I stick to healthy foods, but I have to
admit this show brings out the bar food lover in me.
I love the exchange between restaurant owner and Guy. I love
the process of the food being prepared. I love how the show leaves me wanting
And I got to thinking (lookout!) I read books like this.
On this I 8 Wednesday I’m cutting through the fat and giving
you the skinny about how I experience books like Guy experiences food…
Rich Appreciation &
Guy enters every dive with respect for the owner. He samples
every platter knowing the chef poured love into their work. He offers a kind
word and a fist bump whenever the food merits it.
So it is with the books I read. As an author I know what it
takes to complete a novel. I’m not quick to bash, but instead to offer a kind
word whenever the craft merits.
Tattooed, with his spiky hair the color of a sandstorm, Guy
assesses each diner, infiltrating them with his own experiences. And he’s
checking out the joints that have been highly recommended and have received
With every book I read I infuse my preferences and tastes.
Something about me that might surprise you: I hardly ever give two-star (or
one-star) ratings on Goodreads. Why? Because I don’t bother to keep reading. I
put the book down if it’s not three stars or higher.
If you’ve ever watched the show you know Guy consumes
quickly. It doesn’t take him a year to tour one dive.
I happen to read a lot. I plow through books with the same
enthusiasm Guy exudes when he chomps down on a meaty sub.
Says What He Means,
Means What He Says
My husband and I have fun trying to discern whether or not
Guy’s really digging a sandwich. We study his expressions. But most of all we
tune in to what he says. The more we watch the show, the more we’re able to
figure out when Guy has hit the mother lode of diner food and when he’s meh,
not all that impressed.
I review books in the same way. Like Guy, I can always find
something positive to say, but there are
ways to tell when I’m really into a book and when I’m meh, not all that
Expertise Guy is a chef. He visits every restaurant with his culinary
I’m a writer. I read every book with my knowledge of the
Raves When He’s Blown
It’s unmistakable when Guy’s taste buds have been blessed.
He’s giving fist bumps. He’s making up catchy phrases, licking his fingers, and
jumping into the pot stewing with spices. He’s consuming the whole meal.
Ditto for me with books. When I’m satisfied, I’m talking
about the book. I’m tweeting it. I’m lending it to friends. And I’m buying
every book the author has ever written.
Uses Foodie Lingo
Guy’s got the foodie speak down and he uses it as
appropriate with the restaurant owners and chefs.
I’m nailing pub talk. As appropriate I’ll throw out a little
WIP, query, POV, story arc, and platform speak just for kicks.
Open to Learning
Guy lets every chef show off. Throw food around. Drop in
spices he’s never heard of. And he absorbs. Last night I even heard him say he
needed to steal a recipe.
While I’m no thief, I am constantly learning from the books
So me and Guy, we’ve got a few things in common. You know,
beside the tats and the porcupine hair. ;-)
Ever seen this irresistible show? Do you experience books
like Guy experiences food? How? *photo by stock.XCHNG **is the font up there too small to read?