How to Critique Part 4

Story and Theme

“Story” is what the characters do to move the plot forward. It is what happens in a book, and provides the emotional undercurrent that holds the book together.  This differs from “plot” which can be thought of as the structured sequence of events, organized by the writer, to provide the biggest thematic payoffs.  “Theme” is  “what the book is about” or what it is that drives the character’s basic conflict. The theme of the story is revealed through the interactions and reactions of the characters; it is not directly revealed through the writer’s POV.  Story, plot and theme need to work together – the plot must provide the foundation, the roadmap, the opportunities for thematic climaxes; the story must have emotional impact and be interesting, it needs to map to the plot so that it appears that the character’s emotional arc has a sense of realism; the theme must drive the conflict, and give the story a deeper sense of importance.  Theme can’t be wishy-washy, it has to be clear as to why the main character needs to tell his story.

What to Look For:

  1. Do all chapters, scenes, and dialog serve to move the plot forward?
  2. Is the story child-centric? Would the target reader (age group) be able to relate to the story being told? Is the story told from a child’s viewpoint, and not from the adult writer’s viewpoint?
  3. Is the theme shown in the actions and reactions of the characters? Does the writer intrude by revealing thematic elements?
  4.  Do the emotional highs and lows in the story map to appropriate plot points?  Do the story and the plot work together?
  5.  Is there enough conflict? Does the story support the conflict?
  6. Is the pace of the story used effectively? Is there a sense of rhythm to the telling of the story such that you can feel the characters moving forward, battling the conflict, dealing with their emotions?
  7. Is the ending satisfying?
  8. Can you write the logline for the book? (if you can’t, you may not be clear on the theme, or with what the main character wants.)
  9.  Can you define the theme in one word?
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