What Am I Trying to Say?

An Examination of Themes, Messages, and Armatures

Every story should have some kind of message, theme, thrust, main point, etc.  You may consider the prior sentence as just an opinion, but hear what I have to say and then disagree, if you still do.

When you begin writing a story, you might or might not have a good sense for what it will be about.  If you don’t know where you’re headed, by the time you finish your first draft and read over it, you should start to develop your message.

Some writers write to know what they want to say.  Some plan and assemble their resources and map out their track before they begin.  Neither way is better, though those in the second camp tend to avoid getting lost along the way.

Lots of stories have morals.  Aesop’s fable about The Boy Who Cried Wolf: Don’t lie because when you do tell the truth, no one will believe you.  Beauty and the Beast: Love is stronger than ugliness and evil curses.  In the film The Shawshank Redemption, multiple characters state the core idea of the film, plain as day: Get busy living or get busy dying.

A  message needn’t be so discrete that your readers/audience miss it.  It’s okay to put it in full sunlight.

An armature is a sculpting term for the frame that goes beneath the clay and external features of a sculpture.  Brian McDonald uses this term for a story’s message in his book Invisible InkIt’s yet another way of thinking about the essence of the story you want to tell.

Put it this way–how well would a sculpture stand without that skeleton underneath?  The armature is the bone structure.

I recently finished a draft for a short story that centers around a boy who takes a temporary summer job helping out at a circus that has stopped for a month in his town.  Now that I’ve finished my rough draft, I’m considering the message/armature of humans will come to the forefront when my main character is personally convicted when he realizes his own fascination with the circus comes at the expense of the performers, who are humans just like him.

Plenty of stories abound with no moral, no theme, no armature, and essentially no strong underpinning.  I believe that stories should teach us something, tell us something, and hopefully that something is important and will encourage, warn, or help us in some small or large way to meet life with more wisdom.

This isn’t a technique you can pick up and immediately start using in five minutes.  Chew on it and let me know what you think.


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