15.02: Writing Between the Lines

Your Hosts: Brandon, Victoria, Dan, and Howard

Victoria Schwab, who also writes as V.E. Schwab, joins us this year, and in this episode she helps us cover that deep concept of “theme,” and how we as authors can state our themes without coming straight out and stating them—writing our themes “between the lines.”

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take something you’ve completed, but which is still in draft form. Write down three possible themes. Then compare this against what your alpha/beta readers tell you what they think your themes are.

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab

9 thoughts on “15.02: Writing Between the Lines”

  1. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this episode. Victoria is a great addition and found what she had to say insightful. Looking forward to the new season!

  2. Heroes and monsters and villians? No, just a Writing Excuses quartet, with Brandon, Dan, and Howart being joined by Victoria Schwab to talk about listener questions focusing on theme and subtext. From the basic idea of a theme, to when and where theme percolates into a story, along with alternate words (motif, meaning, point, mantras?) and how the message in a commercial may help us understand the theme in a story… the foursome don’t quite get up on a soapbox about themes and revision, but they certainly have a lot of interesting ideas for you to think about. And you can read all about them in the transcript, available now in the archives.

  3. How do you go about balancing theme in a story that has a lot of distinct elements?

    For instance: how would you write a large ensemble cast in a way that strengthens the main theme without hitting it too hard or causing the characters to feel too similar to eachother? If the answer is to diversify the themes they represent, how do you ensure that the representation of those additional themes doesn’t clash with the main one?

  4. Really enjoyed the episode. Victoria is a great addition and found what she had to say insightful. Seemed to gel well with the rest of the crew. Looking forward to the rest of the season!

  5. Welcome Victoria! I already read your Darker Shades of Magic based on a recommendation a few seasons back.
    Since your main character is named Kel, but I’m a major Stormlight Archive fan – where there is another Kel – It threw me a bit. :-)

    But I really enjoyed the story. Glad to have you join the team and give a new PoV.

    And yes, when a writer is too heavy handed with their moral or theme it becomes eye rolling.

    Looking forward to the new season.

  6. One important thing the quatuor didn’t touch upon is: there’s more than one way to read a book. People bring in their own baggage when they experience a story. So not all readers will agree on the themes, or on what the author was trying to say about that theme.

    1. To the point that they’ll see things that really aren’t there.

      To the point that even if the writer specifically and deliberately wasn’t saying a thing, someone will read the work as saying that thing.

      To the point that if the writer fastidiously avoids including any theme at all, someone will say “this is the theme of the work”.

  7. Fantastic episode! I really liked how Victoria called theme a baseline, as something to follow through the story, and I love to get a hint of what a book is aiming to explore “between the lines” early in the book. Dan had a great way of describing how the aboutness makes a chain of events into a story, so to get at least get a feeling of the author’s baseline when it comes to themes when I pick up a book, that’s often part of the hook for me.

    I loved the mantra concept too as a character truth you just now is gonna get dented or utterly destroyed on the way (if I got that right, heh), that was a wonderful inspiring concept for character creation. This is one of those Writing Excuses-episodes I’ll definitely come back to several times because it made me think a lot about my own story. Thanks, guys!

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