Tag Archives | theme

One author’s take on branding. (RISING by Laura Josephsen)

Thanks for having me on your blog, Laura!

My blog topic for today is how this new book is different from my last book published, Confessions from the Realm of the Underworld (Also Known as High School), but it made me think about writers taking on all sorts of different stories.

Confessions is Young Adult, contemporary, modern-day setting, and a very “normal life” story. It was kind of my oddball novel in that respect; I typically veer more toward speculative fiction. It was about family and friendship and set in high school.

Rising Book 1: Resistance is adult speculative fiction. It’s set in a fantasy world, but it’s science based and therefore more accurately sci-fi, and it’s adventure/friendship/gradual romance.

Confessions is one of the lightest and most fun books I’ve ever written. It had a snarky voice and was super easy to write. It dealt with characters having to make some tough decisions, yes, but the ultimate tone of it was very lighthearted.

Resistance is the darkest book I’ve ever written. It was emotionally exhausting in a lot of ways, and it cost me a lot to write it—I had to delve into deeper places and push myself outside my comfort zones.

I’ve talked before on my blog about branding—should an author have a brand or not—and something that’s stuck with me is when someone told me that maybe it’s not genre or age group that needs to define a author—maybe it’s an overall theme that the author consistently writes. That struck a chord with me because I feel like that’s how I write—whether I’m writing YA or adult, speculative fiction or not, inspirational or contemporary, I always go toward themes of light and life and hope. My characters might go through terrible things that sometimes I don’t even want to think about, but the journey is in seeing how they deal with these things, how they overcome them and find the light at the end of their tunnel.

We all have stories that we love and stories we dislike. As completely different as Confessions and Resistance are, my hope for both books is that something in the words I write might speak to someone…it might just be in wildly different ways.

All Alphonse wants is a quiet summer at home before his final months at university. What he gets is a half-dead stranger on his doorstep and the task of delivering a package to the leader of his home country. Not long after he boards a train toward the capital, he’s attacked by knights, elite soldiers of the neighboring king.

Alphonse is temporarily rescued by Mairwyn, a mechanic with a haunted past and a deep hatred of knights. Together, they attempt to carry out Alphonse’s urgent errand, only to learn that if they fail, countless people will die.

And even if they succeed, they may not be able to prevent the war that lurks on the horizon.

Laura Josephsen lives with her family in Tennessee. She is a co-author of the Restoration series and the author of Confessions from the Realm of the Underworld (Also Known as High School). She likes music, reading, socks, rainy days, chocolate, coffee, and sci-fi and fantasy tales.


I haven’t had the honor of reading the Rising yet, but I read Confessions from the Realm of the Underworld (Otherwise known as High School) and I really enjoyed it. I have no doubt this next one will be just as good. Thanks everyone! If you have any questions for Laura Josephsen – ask away!

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Who are you? And why is that important?

This one question resonated with me. It lodged into my brain and my heart and keeps repeating over and over again. I look at my story that is polished, ready to go. I look at the work I’m currently revising. And I look at the idea bubbling in the back of my mind, ready to burst forth onto the page.

Why do I write the stories I write? Why do I focus on certain themes? Why do I love the books I do?

I know the answer. I think. Just like if you asked yourself that question and looked at your work, you’d probably find the answer too.

I heard this question in a workshop on Finding Your Marketing Voice at NESCBWI. The speaker was referring to the question in terms of marketing and social media. But that’s not what the question meant to me. Instead of marketing voice, I started thinking in terms of story voice.

Not voice as we usually think of voice as writers. I mean the subtle heartbeat behind our ideas and our themes that can’t help but be present in our writing, creep into our character arcs, and find a way into our plots.

Do you see a consistent theme in your stories? Do you see any kind of vague reflection of yourself in your writing? And how do you think as writers we can or should capitalize on that in which ideas we choose to pursue or our marketing/branding?

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The varying degrees of theme.

T is for Theme

I never really got theme except that it was the meaning behind the story, the message. I didn’t give much thought to it. I do now.

Theme is the controlling idea that drives the novel. It goes hand in hand with the internal conflict of the main character. If you aren’t sure what the theme of you story is then look at the struggles of your main character.

And I’ve noticed depending on the book there are different levels of theme. They go from one extreme to the other.

Literary / character driven novel

This kind of novel is big on theme, symbolism, and layers. It’s everywhere on every page. The story follows the life of a character. As Margo pointed it out in her recent post, there’s more micro tension than big story tension.

Literary / character-driven novel with a big hook (like death or special powers)

These books end up being award winners because they attract a large audience but also leave the reader with a strong emotional impact due to theme. The story has the big hook but that’s not really what the story is about. It’s still more about the character.

Literary / commercial / possibly high concept

This novel is my favorite. It is both plot and character driven. It is extremely well written, strong internal conflicts, theme, and character arc yet the story has high stakes.

Plot driven with a strong emphasis on character

I added this in this morning because often times we have stories that aren’t really high concept but aren’t literary either. This kind of story could be strengthened with the use of the theme through emphasizing the character’s arc and internal conflict. Stories only improve by having a strong character arc. No matter how plot driven they might be.

Commercial / plot-driven, high concept novel

I also love these stories but they tend not to stay with me as long. The focus of the story is not on theme. It’s part of the internal conflict but the emphasis is on the plot and how the characters deal with obstacles. This kind of story is usually on a lower reading level with not as much use of imagery, poetic and rhetorical devices. It’s not worse just a different style of writing.

Of course there are stories that fall somewhere in between.

Which kind do you like to read? And on which level does your writing fall? How much do you consider theme when writing?

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Friday 5-Reasons to include a Nerf gun in your current story.

**I did not receive any compensation from the Nerf company for the use of Nerf guns in this post.**


It’s all about the symbolism, right? The thematic statement of your story. Just think about what a Nerf gun can represent – war, peace, hatred, love – deep stuff. But primal, which is what you want.

Let’s use an example of two teens, Alex and Julie.  Picture this: The Nerf gun lies on the floor. Forgotten. The two teens arrive home from a party where Julie’s best friend flirted with Alex. And he’d flirted back. Tensions are running high. As they march through the door, Alex trips over a small trinket on the floor. A nerf gun. The symbol of their upcoming battle. Very subtle but will sink into the subconscious of your reader.


Subtext is important. You know, all that stuff that is really happening in your scenes but no one is talking about.

So, let’s go back to Alex and Julie. Same scene. Julie is pissed. They enter the house, but instead of fighting and tripping over the Nerf gun, it lies on the kitchen counter. With stiff, jerky movements, Julie uses her domestic expertise to cook up a bag of microwave popcorn. With kernels popping in the background, Alex nervously talks about the Nerf gun. I’m not sure what exactly he’d say about it – maybe he always wanted a Nerf gun when he was in 3rd grade and now, he always wants things he can’t have. Scarred for life. But really, he’s not talking about the Nerf gun but Julie’s friend. Julie lets the popcorn burn.


Foreshadowing is all the cool elements you scatter through out Act I that hint to what will happen in the future.

Okay, Alex and Julie. Maybe two days before the party where Alex flirts with Julie’s best friend, Alex is fooling around with the Nerf gun (because of his traumatic past) and he shoots it and accidentally knocks over a framed picture of them. The picture falls to the floor and the glass shatters. Uh-oh. Not looking good. (I realize that’s not very subtle, but you get the point. Cut me some slack.)


Even a serious story can use a bit of humor.

Same scene. Except this time, the Nerf gun isn’t even in the room. Alex and Julie storm into the house. Julie burns the popcorn. As she’s bringing it over to slam on the counter in front of Alex; her pesky little brother, who wants to be a secret agent, aims and shoots. His orange Nerf dart pierces the air thick with tension. Julie, who thought her pesky little brother was at Grandma’s, jumps and spills the popcorn everywhere. Instead of fighting, Julie and Alex start a food fight with her brother and end up laughing. The fight put off. For now.


We all want three-dimensional characters in our story.

Think about Alex’s long and complicated history or backstory when it comes to Nerf guns. As a writer, if I weave that fascinating tidbit about Alex’s childhood earlier into the story, then the power of the Nerf gun in this scene will triple fold. All of sudden, the reader will empathize (or not) with Alex for flirting with Julie’s friend. Or we’ll feel for Julie and hope she tells Alex to suck it up and move on. Either way, you have character with deeper motivations for their actions and dialogue.

Other benefits:

  • Nerf guns will not date your story. I think they’ll be around for a while.
  • Sensory details – the pop, pop, pop.
  • Colors: The nice sunshine yellow of the gun, the orange darts, the red laser.
  • Nostalgia: Boys reading your story probably had a Nerf gun at one point in their life and will remember those days and like your story even more. Girls will remember when their annoying brothers kept hitting them in the face, making the symbolism and humor even greater.

**I would like to dedicate this post to my kids’ Aunt Susan and Uncle Philip who gifted our family with a set of Nerf guns in December.**

What are some other benefits of including Nerf guns in your story?

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