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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Themes That Call to You

Themes That Call to You

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of participating in a Creativity Retreat with Susan Kaye Quinn, Rebecca Carlson, and Adam Heine. This retreat was held online via Google Hangout, which is pretty amazing when you consider I’m on the U.S. East Coast, Sue’s in the Midwest, Rebecca’s in Hawaii, and Adam’s in Thailand.

If you’d like to know more about how the retreat was organized, check out Sue’s post here. I wanted to talk about one particular activity, which Sue discovered at a workshop given by Kat Falls, author of DARK LIFE.
Sue asked us to make a list of 10 books or movies we LOVED, which were related in some way to our WIP. Then, with the help of our fellow participants, we looked for similarities in theme, characterization, plot, etc.
Since I’m working on the second book in the EIGHTH DAY series, I made a list of MG books I love – and when I say “love,” I mean “use in my classroom year after year and never get tired of.”
  1. Everlost
  2. Gregor the Overlander
  3. Airborn
  4. The Teacher’s Funeral
  5. A Long Way From Chicago
  6. Star Hatchling
  7. The Power of UN
  8. Save Queen of Sheba
  9. No More Dead Dogs
  10. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

In this list, I found these recurring themes:
  • an MC who makes a big mistake and has to undo or correct the consequences
  • a missing or absent father who nevertheless plays a large role in the story because the MC tries to live up to (or live down) the father’s reputation
  • big brothers protecting siblings
  • characters who make sacrifices for the sake of someone else
  • characters who discover hidden talents under the pressure of necessity
  • surprises in characters we thought we knew – whether it’s a devastating betrayal by someone we trusted or an act of selflessness/courage from someone we’d written off
  • loyalty among friends
  • light, sweet, and puppy romance

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did: Many of these themes can be found in THE EIGHTH DAY and are already developing in the sequel. Sue (and Kat Falls) are right: These are the themes that call to me. And now that I know it, I can work at teasing them out of my subconscious and helping them blossom in this work.
Do you have your list of ten?

19 Responses to Themes That Call to You

  1. Linda G. says:

    Wow, great idea! I don’t yet, but I’m going to work on it as soon as I have some breathing space.

  2. Tonja says:

    I definitely see similar themes running throughout my stories. Not intentionally.

  3. SA Larsenッ says:

    That creative retreat sounds wonderful! I’d love to partake in something like that in the future. God knows I need a bit of a push (more like a shove) right now, to get writing. Grr… Don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated. I see you’re working on the second book in your MG series. How did you go about moving forward with the story in the second book, yet making it a story of its own? (Sorry to cherry pick your brain, but I’m … AUGH!) LOL

  4. Sounds like a great idea. I’ve never done that. I really liked Gregor the Overlander, BTW. Sounds like it was a great retreat.

  5. Ha! Yes I definitely recognize those themes from the version I read. What an insightful exercise!

  6. mshatch says:

    I’ll have to start on that list though I already see themes on your list that appeal to me.

  7. What a cool exercise. I’m going to try it : )

  8. jaybird says:

    Gregor the Overlander was one of my all time favorites. I pre-read everything I give to my kids to read, and nine out of ten times, I wind up loving their MG stories, more than what I’m reading, LOL

  9. Ooh! What a great activity! I haven’t done this for any of my works, but I think I will. I’m fascinated already by what I might find.

  10. What a neat idea! I’ll have to give it a shot, although my reading list is so eclectic, it might be difficult to select a top ten.

  11. I haven’t done my list and two things occurred to me. A. I want to crib from your list for Child #1 and B. My favorite books are all on similar themes to my writing.

  12. I really ought to do more stuff like this, but I never seem to find the time.

  13. Cynthia says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog earlier today. I’ll have to check out some of the books on your list. I also love books about loyalty among friends and characters who can rise to the occasion. I enjoy reading stuff with underdogs, boarding schools, and suspense, among other things, so I suppose some of my top ten picks might spotlight those things.

  14. LTM says:

    Too FUN! I have never made a list like this, but I’ve used #2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 in all my books–LOL!

    Sounds like you guys had a great time~ <3

  15. I don’t off the top of my head, but I know which themes call to me when I read and write. 🙂

  16. DL Hammons says:

    No…I don’t have a list of ten, but it sounds like a really interesting exercise to do! Hmmmmmmm.

  17. Lydia Kang says:

    I think I subconsciously did this too. Sounds like that was a great seminar by Kat Falls!

  18. wow, what a great exercise! I’m off to try it now. Thanks for sharing!

  19. I’m just now getting to your post, Dianne! One thing I noticed that was good about having the group help with this, was that OTHER people often do a better job of spotting themes than we do.