The String – How Story Structure Works

It’s not the pearls but the string that makes the necklace. ~ unknown

Alex Moore did a post over at Adventures In Writing at the beginning of June, titled Got Armature? That’s where I stole the quote above. Alex’s post talks about armature, which in sculpture, is a framework providing a core for modeling materials such as wax, clay, and plaster. It is such a fascinating concept, the premise being, in Alex’s words:

An armature provides structure and it is invisible to the naked eye. It is an essential piece of the overall product, but the viewer should never see so much as a wire poking through.

As a writer, a novelist, why do you care? Well, Brian McDonald, screenwriter extraordinaire, explained it all like this: Your masterpiece must have a point that you’re trying to prove. Every decision you make is based on that point. So, the armature is the message that your story proves. [Note: the message must go somewhere. You can’t have a message like “love” — but you can have one that states “love sucks.”]

So, in essence, I like to think of all this in layers, once again. A pearl necklace is the simplest structure I can use as an example. The meat of your story can’t float in a beautiful line without structure. Those pearls need a string, and according to the premise above, that string – the message of your book – must be invisible. AND it must support your entire book, and tie together at the end. Otherwise – no necklace. Examples work the best for me. Let’s see how good I am at this!

Wizard Of Oz – family is your home

Pride and Prejudice – love transcends selfishness

Lord of the Rings – limitless power always corrupts

Those are my best guesses. If you’ve got anything different, let me know. I hope that gives you a small idea of where I’m going with this. It makes me think of theme. I know that’s a scary word for a lot of you. In most cases, nobody should pre-plan their theme, in my opinion. It should just happen. This is why I think that the string must be invisible. If it’s “showing” it’s probably because the writer was trying too hard to push something on the reader, or too excited to show their clever theme, or some other reason. But when you set to work on those second draft revisions (where I believe the real writing happens), you should be aware of this string/armature/theme, and you should strengthen it, not necessarily make it visible. Alex also states:

. . . every scene must prove this point- anything else just dilutes the message. Sub-themes may emerge, but they will always complement your point. Don’t muddy the work.

I might have hit on sub-themes up there in my examples. Perhaps I’m not seeing the bigger structure, but it’s a start. Sometimes it’s hard to see the structure that’s invisible all the way through!

I think knowing what the structure is in our work is absolutely essential. It provides focus, continuity, and builds to a dynamic, satisfactory end. Without it, your story might be a pretty pile of pearls, and quite possibly a mess. I know I’ve felt this way about my work. I wanted a divorce from my novel at one point because of it. Now that I’ve figured out what this invisible structure should be in the novel, I can’t tell you how much of a difference it’s made. Everything has direction, support, a goal! And it’s all sliding onto the string, one pearl at a time.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle


I think this idea has a lot in common with the old idea of there only being three to nine stories.The classic threeMan vs ManMan vs SelfMan vs NatureAnother writer expanded it to nine stories adding in such as man vs technology and man vs God.I always ask that question before I type out a word. I think for a bit about the characters and plot points but I try to decide which story I'm telling.So if I'm telling a story about drug addiction, that is Man vs Self. When I get ideas to flesh out the plot, I discard anything that changes that story from the direction I believe it adheres.

The necklace is a great example to start with. I agree that sub-plots are important…they are what give the plurality to your "layers" and ultimately depth to your characters and story. Just make sure the sub-plots are just that…a sub-plot of the main story, and not independent little stories that have no bearing to the main plot.For FATE'S GUARDIAN, I actually started with a theme, but realized I couldn't write a novel about reincarnation in and of itself…I needed characters and a story.For EARTH'S END I has a random thought that struck me as funny: what if God had to hire a consultant to decide how to end the world? As I write the novel, the main theme is "life and religion are really funny."Now for the latter work, many people may disagree with me on that theme, but writing is almost always subjective so that doesn't really bother me.

Angie Ledbetter

So, the pearl necklace's clasp is what keeps the reader "hooked?" (The plot and conflict.) 🙂

scott g.f. bailey

I think this is an important concept, because I believe in structure, and that a story has to have a purpose and that writing with that purpose in mind, toward a specific goal, is what storytelling is. This is why I make charts, so I can't forget my themes and the point of the story. Excellent post, Michelle!

I was JUST thinking about this.I used to have a verrrry specific theme to my writing–some of my early work was almost as allegorical as CS Lewis, I was trying so hard to include that message. I got tired with that set-up, though, and tried *not* to do that with my most recent WIP. Instead, I tried to tell a realistic story and see where it went. (Take realistic with a grain of salt–it is a murder mystery set in space, after all.) But I noticed over time that even if I didn't write to a specific message, the plot worked cohesively if I did have a one unified idea behind all the different strands. This became the message: the power of truth. Everyone reacts differently to a terrible truth–some die, some cover it up, some try to tell others–but the truth is the driving force behind their actions.Hmm…I think you've just inspired me to go rewrite my query based on this idea!!

Thanks for mentioning the 'T' word. My therapist will be so happy to see me again!Kidding.Maybe.The one thing I absolutely despised about English class was delving for the themes in novels. Hate, hate, hated doing that! Why can't an author just right a fantastic book without an underlying theme (shudder, gasp, reach for the phone) being present?I don't have the answer to that question, btw! I truly think, in the majority of stories, the underlying theme (dials therapists number) is: growth. Do the characters grow or stagnate? In most of my manuscripts the underlying basis (much better word) is always the growth of the characters as they face and deal with the conflict. The growth isn't always noticeable in big bold, italicized letters, but it is evident (at least I hope so) by the end of the manuscript/novel!Great post. Now, I'm going to deal with my conflict over the 'T' word! SS

Great questions! I'm not sure about the visibility. I just think it shouldn't be preachy. I definitely like themes in my own work, and recently I've heard of the moral premise as being particularly important. Interesting stuff.You won the drawing of that book, so if you want to e-mail me your address, I'll send it to you. I wasn't sure if you wanted to be entered, so that's why I put your name in. 🙂 It's an inspirational romance, very small.

Great post! In my role as editor, I have read stories who structures were poking through, because they were trying to push the theme too hard, and it doesn't work. Thanks for the post.

I think, because I write inspirational fiction, I consider the theme a lot when I'm writing. There are times when I want it to be a bit more overt and other times I really, really, don't want it to feel like I am pushing anything. I agree that it shouldn't be pre-planned and it sort of comes naturally as the book progresses. It does help to keep in mind the theme, though. I think if I tend toward one side or another, it's usually the side of not being clear enough. Not having a strong flowing theme that's apparent throughout, that's tied together with each scene.

Jody Hedlund

As was touched on in some of the other comments, do you think there are times when the theme is more visible? Perhaps more like a golden chain? Of course no one wants to be preached at, but can an author weave a theme throughout her book so seamlessly that in the end, the reader comes away with a ver clear sense of it?

Jeannie Campbell

fascinating concept. sounds a bit like randy ingermanson's snowflake method…at least the first step. he says you take one sentence (12-15 words or less) and encompass your story. but you're talking about an overarching "theme" sorta…so maybe not the same thing. randy's is more of a pitch sentence…your story in a nutshell. but the examples you gave sound like they would work. hmm…lots to think about. thanks!

scott g.f. bailey

I realize now that I didn't answer your questions! I think that, in character- and theme-based stories, the story is the theme and you can't really separate them. Every element exists to serve that theme, so you don't need to make the theme highly visible. I think that when your conflicts are visible, the outcome of those conflicts will reveal the theme.

B.J. Anderson

This is an awesome concept and actually helps me a ton in my editing process right now. And I don't think you need to beat people over the head with it. I like the idea of keeping it invisible. Thanks for the great post!

Amber Argyle-Smith

Wow. I've judged contests and this has seriously been a problem for tons of writers. In one of the stories, the writer tried to make his/her MC into Jesus–going so far as to have excruiciating pain in their palms and feet–for no reason. Totally jerked me out of the story.

Oh, I think the more invisible the better. Because stories have different meaning to different people. If the structure is too obvious, then it drowns out the other layers. If it isn't obvious enough, it has no plot! I love a story that's grounded but has the potential of shooting in different directions. Those are my favorites.

Man, girl, you are smart. Honestly, you have really deep and thoughtful ideas. I love it.Yes, theme needs to be invisible. I hate reading a book that has a moral message pounding me over the head. I like to feel smart as a reader and figure out how it is all pieced together.

Hmm, themes. I haven't thought much about that. When I write, I have a story to tell. Hopefully I can tell it and tell it good. So I would say the theme or message has to be invisible. I have written to a theme without realizing it. 🙂

Thanks for the link to Adventures in Fiction and posting on this topic. It's an important one and Brian is an awesome speaker. I've gone to a handful of his sessions and heard him speak on structure and on visual story telling. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, by all means go. He's good with providing examples and presents with emotion.I think that we are talking about two different things, but not distinguishing them as much as we could. There is the invisible structure and then there is the theme or premise.Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell, as well as many screen writers, focus quite a bit on the steps of story structure. The heroe's journey has a handful of distinct steps, for example. I've had the experience of watching a movie and saying, "They are doing the refusal of the call step, and it is way too obvious." It feels like a step, not a story. I think that telling the story in a way that creates that response is what Brian is saying people need to avoid doing. On the other hand, I've read people's WIP and thought this story needs help with story structure. There's not much in the way of cause and effect scenes and not much in the way of following a genre sturcture. I think there are two ways to tell if you have invisible structure that leads to proving a premise.1. If people are not distracted by the steps or the structure it has the invisible element.2. If you can go back, after reading the story, and identify the major turning points that is a good sign. Does the overall story structure fit in a category of classical story telling or genre story telling? (Blake Synder has a great list of different story types in Save the Cat) If it does fit a certain story type, it might have structure. What gets me, when reading a WIP, is when the first three out of four chapters are just meet the characters chapters but there is no sense of forward movement. That makes me think the story structure needs help.I think that a story needs to create a sense of momentum and shape for the reader. Structure helps build suspense and a sense of where the story is going. That place that the story goes by the end then becomes the theme. The premise is proved, the point or significance of the story is felt by the reader or viewer.

This is a great post girl. It is such an interesting idea. I like for the themes to be in the background. I don't like feeling preached to.

Haha–your post did make me rewrite my query letter! I ended up with something much different from what I envisioned after reading the post, but I do think it's stronger…although perhaps a bit long…

I love the quote, love the post, love your blog. Thank you for this. I love, love, love it!

Davin Malasarn

By structure, you don't mean story structure, right? That confuses me a bit. I guess that would be more visible, though. I think I agree. The string should be invisible. For me, it's those invisible forces that make writing so exciting. You see the words on the page, but then you perceive this other material,the emotions and the themes that feel like the writer is whispering secrets to you. That part of it is so exciting!I don't consciously think of themes. I'm actually not sure my work has any. I like to just stick to the characters and try to be true to them because that's what interests me. Having said that, I think a theme can really make a book more powerful.

This was very interesting to read : )What are your thoughts on "multi-strand necklaces", or works that focus on more than one main theme? I've been rereading my completed manuscript (I have got to stop doing that … or it will never be a completed manuscript), and it's starting to seem like I tried to do too many things with it. The examples you gave fit into a one-strand scenario. Do you think this is the only (or ideal) way to approach this?I loved the metaphor of a necklace and will probably start using it with my students in September : )

I’m not sure if I sure make a comment or not, it may seem a little ego-based. You mentioned me in your post and someone wrote me and asked me to post. I hope it’s okay.As for armature/theme, I find that most people misunderstand theme. Most English teacher don’t understand it themselves. And because of this we think that it is a difficult concept. Theme is very natural and it comes naturally out of story.Firstly, we have to stop confining storytelling to the process of writing. Storytelling existed before the written word. Writing is only one way of transmitting stories from one person to another.When we understand that we are storytellers first and writers second then we can observe that we use all of the “rules” of story in everyday language – in spoken language.People rarely speak without a theme. They always have a point, or the listener is bored out of his/her mind.A story has these three elements:ProposalArgument/proofConclusionThis is true when people tell stories in life. For instance:Proposal —“I’d be careful about moving into a ground floor apartment”Argument – “I used to live in one and I would get robbed all the time. Plus people can see right in and one time I walked out into the livingroom after taking a shower and these people were looking right at me”Conclusion – “See if you can get a place on a higher floor, dude”. The armature is the point of the story and at the heart of all coherent and engaging stories.It is not an afterthought or something you have to force. I often hear the argument that theme will emerge from writing. I have almost never seen it and I have read a lot of student stories. I think this is because writing is taught instead of storytelling. So form becomes more important than content. Stories are their content not their form. This is why stories can be on the stage, or of film, or in a novel, or a comic book, or a puppet show or in number of forms. Or they can be in any language – this includes a strictly visual language like pantomime.But our focus on the word over content has confused us about how people talk and tell stories in everyday life.When we start a sentence we may not know all of the words we are going to speak, but we are very aware of what idea we want to communicate. That’s the theme.A good story has the same requirements and a sentence, and a paragraph and a chapter. All are expressing a single idea and we all know that the writing is sloppy if a paragraph changes ideas in the middle because the writer didn’t know what they wanted to say. Same thing in a story.People often say that starting with theme gives stories falseness. That is only if the person telling the story does a poor job. Finding Nemo started with the theme first and it was a well-told story. Just because we may be clumsy at applying something when we first start is no reason to abandon the technique.The big problem is most of us want to be writers, but we have nothing to write about. Find something in life that you care about and writer about that.I hope it was okay for me to chime in.

Great post. It's not something I'd ever heard of or was consciously conscious about, but when I write, I'm always aiming for a certain place in the back of my mind. It's not something that I even necessarily give a name to, but it's there all the same, popping out unexpectedly when I go back for revisions. I love this concept!

Glass Dragon

Can I just copy/paste Tess's reply?I watched a few of episodes of an anime called Arjuna. The theme was take care of the planet, pollution is bad (with an underlying theme of magical girls are hopelessly dense). Not a bad theme, but I felt like I was being bludgeoned to death with it and preached at rather forcefully in every episode. Three episodes of this was all I could take before my eyes were in danger of rolling out of my head. It was all string and no pearls. Stiff, rusty, polluted, non-biodegradable string.Then there's Pixar's Wall-E. Same theme, but handled ever so much better! I could watch that over and over, and hardly realize it's a cautionary tale! All I saw were the pearls as the string gently wrapped around me.So today's lesson is you can teach me morals on the sly as long as you distract me with something shiny! Haha! J/K. Sort of. >.>

I love that quote. I'd not heard it before. It's a great way to illustrate how themes are important to a book.My theme started out being global warming (although through fantasy so more about taking care of the planet), but ended up saying more about cultures colliding and how technology doesn't make a better society, but people working together does.Sometimes I think the hidden themes are better because you are convincing the reader without being overt so they don't disagree as easily. Also, it's not as overt so it avoids being preachy, but of course, the statement itself isn't as strong in that case.

Brian McD: "When we start a sentence we may not know all of the words we are going to speak, but we are very aware of what idea we want to communicate. That’s the theme."I was just recently mulling over this relationship between word and idea in a story. I mentioned in my post I tend to identify my stories more with the idea side than the word side.To phrase it another way, I usually do start with a theme. Sometimes theme is actually all I have of a story, and then I bang my head against the screen trying to find characters, environment and situation to bring my theme to life.Is that really weird?I don't know if this results in stories which are too obvious in their message. I do know it causes me some problems, because I almost always pick the same few themes.

I've been thinking about this, and I realized that I also think of my stories as having an armature, but I use the metaphor for a different aspect of the story.Most of the novels I've written have a pre-determined structure, the skeleton or armature, which is not a matter of theme (though they have this as well), but more basic nuts and bolts like PoV, word count, number of chapters, etc. For instance, in my fantasy book, I have three main story lines, which interweave in a specific way: I balance the scenes which are flashbacks against the scenes which are present in a specific way. This causes dreadful nightmares in revisions.This structure isn't hidden, but it isn't something I would expect a reader to notice.

Jessie Oliveros

I loved this post. And I agree, the theme kind of arrives while writing. Being too conscious of the thought you are trying to promote might make it too obvious in your writing.

Over several years of teaching story construction to hundreds of students I have found this one thing that comes up in every class. I am always asked how one stops from hitting people over the head with your theme, but I have NEVER been asked by anyone how their point can be made more clear.We have created a society that says obscurity is more desirable then clarity. We would much rather be seen as artists whose work is not understood instead of ones whose work is understood by all. This is a great artistic sin in our society — the be understood.Theme is just a way to communicate clearly and directly.I find that more times than not when people let the theme emerge as they write their work seems to be all over the place. Their writing is more random and when they are done they are almost always unwilling to cut the things that don’t fit. This muddies their point, but in this society we will never be chastised for being unclear, but for being understood.

I need more structure!

Brian McD: "but I have NEVER been asked by anyone how their point can be made more clear."That's a fascinating observation. I don't think I've ever heard it addressed either. How *would* you suggest making one's theme more clear?

Lady Glamis

Brandon: I can see how theme might follow after a classic plot structure. Interesting!Rick: Ah, yes, people disagreeing with themes. That happens in almost every book, I think. In fact, the most controversial themes make for the most interesting stories, I think. I leave the interpretation of "interesting" up to you. I also think that it's important, as you say, to keep the sub plots in their place. A string of pearls can have multiple strands, but it's still one necklace, and technically one string.Angie: Awesome! I didn't think of that, but that makes a lot of sense.Scott B.: Yes, that's exactly why I do charts and models and all that fun stuff, too. There's so much to keep track of!I like your answer to my questions – that theme is an intrinsic part of the story and characters. I agree. And I think that's why it should appear "invisible". It's not that we don't know it's there and can't see if we look; it's that it's so much a part of the entire work that if it stood out too much it doesn't work as well. Unless the string's the whole point.Beth: Excellent! I was going to mention how this could help with queries, but decided that might be straying from my main theme. Haha.Scott: That's interesting about the idea of growth. I think it falls into Brian McDonald's comment where he makes it clear that it's the POINT of the novel, not necessarily the theme that matters most. Theme IS the point, and it should be clear and easy to understand. I don't think invisible means hidden or hard to find. It just means it's built correctly into the structure of the novel. That's why I call it the structure, because it's such a huge part of that. To me, anyway.Jessica: Hey, cool about winning! Thanks!Yes, I just addressed the visibility thing up in my answer to Scott's comment.Angie: Yes, if the theme is "poking through" I think it's because the writer was trying too hard. If the theme is supposed to be the point of the story, then I can it working.Cindy: As Brian McDonald makes clear below, I think it's important to make your theme clear, just not pushed as you say. Yeah, I suppose inspirational fiction would have very strong themes!Jody: I think that's how it should ALWAYS be, actually. Clear. Invisible doesn't mean expertly hidden and hard to understand. I think it's great for that "invisible" string to become obvious at a certain point. Many literary works might be harder to understand, but I think that's because there's a lot of complexity to get through. And sometimes writers are obviously trying to be unclear, which frustrates me. One can always see the shape of the string, and we know it's there. That's clear. It's just worked in seamlessly, as you say.Jeannie: Oh, yes! I thought of the Snowflake Method as I wrote this. And that's what inspired all of this in the first place – the discussion in the comments over at the Lit Lab on Monday's post. I brought up the 15 word sentence idea, and was surprised at how it was received. I should do a post specifically on that, i think.

Lady Glamis

Bonnie: I'm glad it is helpful for you! It's certainly me at the moment.Amber: Oh, wow. I hope that story didn't win…Amy: Good description of that! I think "invisible" can imply "interpretive". In the end, most things are left up to the reader. I also think that it should be pretty clear what the author means, but in such a way that leaves it open to more meanings as well.Tess: I give all credit to Alex Moore, LOL! I LOVE figuring things out, as you say. But I do feel that the writer needs to leave enough clear points to get me to that point.Robyn: I'll bet you have themes in your middle grade fiction. Most middle grade that I've read is swimming deep in themes. But not in a bad way. I think if done effectively, that age group can really benefit from good, uplifting themes.Dave: I can see that Brian is amazing, yes! If I ever make it up to Seattle when he's speaking, I'll be sure to stop by.You've made excellent points here about the differences in structure and theme/premise. I wish I had tried to make this more clear in my post!!! Maybe I should do a follow up one because you explain this really well. Would you mind me including your comment?Lois: Yes, being preached to is really hard! I think that's why Christ shared parables instead of just plain preaching.L.T.: You're so nice! Thanks!Davin: I've already talked to you about this, but I think your writing has very deep themes. Clear themes. You just can't see them because they are, as Brian McDonald pointed out, the point you're making, and they don't feel like themes.No, I wasn't meaning story structure, really. I think I meant more of the "structure of introducing theme". But you should read Dave's great comment. I'd like to do a follow up post that makes the distinctions he's pointing out.

Lady Glamis

KLo: Wow! Awesome if you share this idea with your students. Like I said above in my answer to Rick, I don't think a multi-strand necklace is different that a one strand necklace. They're all technically one string unless it's a separate necklace. That's a lazy answer out of the analogy. Sorry!Brian: You are MORE than welcome to comment! I'm very happy you decided to stop by, and hope my post didn't get too many things wrong with your idea. I think Dave makes some excellent points in his comment. And so do you. I agree wholeheartedly that we should be storytellers first and foremost. A scientist pounding out an article about his findings on DNA is a writer (maybe some storytelling could go in there). A man pounding out a 300 page manuscript about his experience of getting lost in the Amazon with a beautiful woman is a storyteller. And I think the theme should naturally occur when a storyteller weaves his tale.I never thought of Finding Nemo that way, but you're right. Theme certainly can be decided in advance and told up front! It just needs to work with the story.I also think the last part of your first comment is the key to a writer finding their "voice". Caring about what I write always helps me focus on storytelling over writing.Once again, thank you for stopping by!Dani: Yes, I think that "thing" constantly coming out would be the clear points you are trying to make. Most of this happens unconsciously for me, too. In the first draft, anyway.Becca: Shiny rules! Pretty, pretty pearls…Lauren: Yes, I think the problem with being too visible is that it will turn off readers right away. As Brian McDonald says about Finding Nemo, the themes are very clear up front. But they aren't preachy, as you say. They work as a huge part of the story. Tara: True that there are many distinctions for the word "structure" as it applies to fiction writing. There's plot structure, theme structure (as I've tried to explain here), physical structure as I think you're pointing out, and on and on. I never saw this before, but it's fascinating! And I think it's important to know these different structures and realize how they build and support our story.Jessie: Yes, for a first draft I never come up with a theme right off the bat. I just let it come, then strengthen and support it in my revisions. Or in the case of Monarch, complete rewrites. Anita: Haha. Don't we all?Tara: Interesting question for Brian! I try to make my themes more clear by making them the reason behind my character's actions. As Alex stated: …every scene must prove this point- anything else just dilutes the message. Sub-themes may emerge, but they will always complement your point. Don't muddy the work. I think that's key. Brian will probably have a completely different answer, haha.

"Now that I've figured out what this invisible structure should be in the novel, I can't tell you how much of a difference it's made. Everything has direction, support, a goal! And it's all sliding onto the string, one pearl at a time." Great post! I appreciated – as a writer who's been there (is probably STILL there or maybe hasn't even arrived all the way yet) – your statement there at the end. It really is like an epiphany, an a-ha moment, where things start to make sense in a way they never did before. And Brian, I love your point that "People often say that starting with theme gives stories falseness. That is only if the person telling the story does a poor job." I think we've been given so many examples of the "poor job" that many writers are theme shy. So you make me think (as you always do): Instead of pointing at the hack jobs, claiming we should avoid such at all costs, we should be studying the stories and authors who accomplish the task seamlessly. (which, of course, is what you model in your awesome workshops 🙂 )

Jill Kemerer

Since my books are very short, there can be very few, if any, subplots. My books are solid strands of pearls instead of a multi-tiered necklaces. My themes emerge from whatever challenge my main character has to overcome.

Annie Louden

Wow, this was a great post and conversation. Soon I'll never have to buy a book about writing again.I like the imagery of the pearl necklace, but for me I think of the string more as all the work and revisions and telling of the story, and the pearls are the finished book. All the hard work is there, but you can't see just how it happened (unless you read all the drafts a writer went through).I loved everything Brian McD had to say! Oh my gosh, such great stuff. And I never minded discussing theme in school b/c I do think every story has a point.Like Tara, most of my stories start out as themes. This makes the writing very hard b/c I have a grand idea in my mind, but I have to figure out how to write it down.

I'm always clueless when someone asks me about my themes. These are so hard to do without seeming didactic. I write mostly based on my moral system and hope that comes through.Fun post!

Lady Glamis

Alex: Yes, it is the aha! moments I LOVE in writing. They are really the ups on the roller coaster. The great thing about it is that I learn so much from these moments, and it makes the next book that much easier to write. Well, more efficient anyway!Annie: Hey, that's an awesome way to look at the necklace! I have to agree with you on that one. It's so easy to just read a book and forget what went into it… even our own work.PJ: Well, I certainly saw themes in your book! I think you do it quite well, even subconsciously.

Excellent points. While I'd like my WIP to reflect my vision, I don't want to shove it down my reader's throats, either. Thanks for this post, it gives me something to chew on.


Ooh! I like this post. And I'm a total theme girl. I love to figure out the theme of my stories, but I usually don't have a real clue of where I'm going with it (just guesses) until I'm about 1/3 the way through with it. Then once i have my underlying theme, the rest of the story magically unfolds. Jenni

I agree with Brian that the armature should never be an afterthought. In fact, it should always be the first thought. Every decision should be made to support the theme. Every scene, character, and line of dialogue should only be included in your story if it directly supports the theme. It's hard to do, but it's necessary. How would you know what to write if you don't know what you're trying to say?I think Finding Nemo is a great example of including only what's necessary to the story. The entire movie is built upon Marlin needing to learn to not be so overprotective of Nemo. From the first shot of their protective anemone home, it sets the whole movie up to tell this story. The fact that Marlin lost his entire family except for one son, Nemo and that he was born with a physical disability are not just coincidences. It shows WHY Marlin would be protective of his son. The entire film is built upon that theme. I recommend watching it again with this in mind. The audience never notices this stuff because it's invisible, but it's what holds a good story together. Not plot twists and catchy dialogue.

Carrie Harris

Themes are great, but the one thing that gets me are books that belabor the theme so much that it gets tedious. I'm not stupid and don't like it when authors hit me over the head with things. Am I making any sense here?

Lady Glamis

Terresa: Thank you so much for stopping by! I agree about the "shoving it down the throat" – I tend to do that a lot, and it hinders everything.DD: Thank you for coming by my blog. I really appreciate your comment. Fortunately, I've seen Finding Nemo about 5 billion times, since my daughter loves that movie. Yes, I agree with Brian as well. That's why the necklace doesn't work without that string, without that constant reinforcement propelling the story forward. Carrie: You're making perfect sense! See my blog post on the Literary Lab today. It mentions how smart readers are, haha.

Lady Glamis

Jenni: I've noticed that, too! It's usually about 2/3 of the way through that I figure it out though. I wish I could figure it out earlier!

Solvang Sherrie

I think this is something I need to work on. Right now I have no theme, but I can see how if I did, it would make editing certain scenes much easier. I mean, I do kind of have an unspoken theme, but if I really make that the theme, then everything else makes more sense. Good thoughts. Thanks!

Hey, I just realized that I wrote about armature on my blog a few years ago. There are six parts:

Lady Glamis

Brian: Wow! Thanks. I'll have to check that out.

A big congratulations for finding your message/theme for Monarch! It is so great to hear that it is coming together much more neatly now that there is a path for it to walk, a string to hang your pearls of writing.Growing up I erroneously thought that if you could see the strings, lighting, and other armature a concert or performance was not of as high a quality. The magician behind the curtain requirement.Thankfully I got over that. In fact many of my favorite concerts and performances it is very easy to see the stage craft. Yet it is still good because the framework is part of the presentation.To be an counter-example to your string of pearls, I have seen a necklace where the pearls were held inside a string of delicate cages. It was one of the loveliest necklaces I have seen! And it was designed that way, deliberately not following the standard.I believe it can work both ways, but it takes the highest craftsmanship to make it work.Now like all things if the framework/message is designed to be hidden and still shows, that's as embarrassing as a hole on the inseam of pants. Thankfully a little mending can fix most holes, visible or written.

Movies with no armature stink. The armature when executed properly makes a story "smell" so good. And I wouldn't have known that had I not been taught the value of an armature. I also would have had a hard time telling a real story that means something to our human experience. I also would have missed out on stepping into a much larger world that all the greats have stepped into and continued to walk around in. I would have kept doing work that made you think, but nothing that will stick with you and truly connect with you as a human being. An armature that builds a well told story will connect with you in an undeniable way that involves NO INTELLECTUAL ANALYSIS, but only enthusiastic testimony. What's more important…work that makes you think, or work that makes you feel alive because you witnessed it. The best artists make you feel like you can do anything when you witness their work, like you're better because you witnessed it…That's an honesty that no story without an armature can achieve. The audience feels connected to you, even if they don't know it intellectually. The armature does this. The armature is the DNA of storytelling. Without it, you're just wasting your time and your audiences time…Even if they don't know it intellectually. That's dishonesty that having no armature creates. The armature is teaching me who I am and what I want to say. More important, it is forcing me to be honest with myself. Can't be honest with your audience if you're not honest with yourself. Dishonesty will never connect with people…Even if they don't intellectually realize that you're full of shit. it will show eventually. I want to connect with people in life. Therefore I must learn to be a truly genuine person. Genuine people create genuine work. I care about the audience too much to waste their time. I care enough about me to not waste my own time. A story with no armature is dishonest, a waste of time, full of shit. And shit stinks…Bad. Also, IMO…Not wanting to insult the audiences' intelligence is no excuse for a lack of an armature or theme. You'll just be ambiguous and won't make any sense to your audience, with the exception of people who like to make up their own sense in their minds…Artsnop intellectual types. To me, that stinks. (i.e. Spike Lee, Gus Van Zant films. Also Avant Garde movies – which translates from French to my ears as "bullshit art with no craft")And — Having an obvious theme/armature will not protect you from not understanding the craft that it takes to utilize that theme/armature. You'll just be hamfisted, over the top, corny and insulting to your audience with the exception to mindless types who only want glib shallow entertainment and nothing more. (i.e. Micheal Bay and Tyler Perry movies – most Guy/Chick flicks) Either extreme is bad. Either extreme stinks. An armature brings balance to your story. And like stories, human beings need balance…Even if they don't intellectually know it. There is NO balance in the world of Cinema and especially American Cinema. I'm studying to help bring balance back to movies and I can't do this without the armature. None of us can. PERIOD.

Lady Glamis

Alicia: Oh, that is such a wonderful way to look at it! I agree that it can work both ways. I've seen necklaces where you can see the string between the pearls. And it's beautiful. But it must be crafted correctlty, that's for sure!Aliens216: Thanks for stopping by! This is a good comment, thank you. I am so disappointed in movies lately. It's rare that I am completely satisfied, and I think it might be because of the armature idea. You've pointed out some great things here!

Alex was right, amazing post. I needed that. Thanks!

Peter: Wow, thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed. 🙂

This was an amazing post. I am so glad that Alex was able to lead me to it.Thank you, because I needed to read it.

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