Every story that becomes a classic has at least three universal plot threads:
(1) Character Emotional Development
(2) Dramatic Action
(3) Thematic Significance
Many writers develop one plot line at a time. The plot line you first choose to carry through the entire first draft is usually directly tied to your strength; strength determines preference (Take the Test).
Whether you begin with the Character Emotional Development plot line or the Dramatic Action plot line, most writers put off the Thematic Significance plot line to the end.
By your final draft, you have at least a vague idea of the deeper meaning of your story, what you are trying to say and the ways you have attempted to communicate that meaning through your story to your audience.
Crystallize the meaning you are attempting to convey into two specific universal themes and improve your chances of creating a classic blockbuster project.
Two Kinds of Thematic Significance
When a character is changed at depth over time, a story becomes thematically significant.
1) Character Emotional Development Thematic Significance
In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Nick serves as the narrator. Of all the characters in the story, Nick is the only one who is changed by the Dramatic Action, thus making Nick also the protagonist. (The definition of a protagonist is the character most changed by the dramatic action in the story. Unlike The Great Gatsby, if other characters are changed by the dramatic action in your story, then the protagonist is determined as a matter of degree and significance of change.
Some might point to Gatsby as the protagonist, alive in the beginning and dead in the end. What counts with thematic significance is not the change from alive to dead, but how the dramatic action creates a long-term emotional change in the protagonist.
Nick sets his own thematic significance in Chapter 3 when he states that he is one of the few honest people he has known. Since he is the narrator, the reader is curious to know if he is reliable, or not. Does Nick have a clear sense of himself from his time in the war as he thinks? Or, does he have more to learn about himself before he can accurately judge himself? In the end, Nick understands he has only begun to live up to his initial assessment of himself as stated in the beginning.
A thematic significance statement for Nick’s character emotional plotline could be:
Only with maturity and assuming personal and moral responsibility are we able to accurately judge ourselves and others.
1) Who is the protagonist of your story?
2) Write down a Thematic Significance statement that encompasses the emotional transformation your protagonist undergoes from the beginning and throughout to the end of the story.
3) Infuse your story with the theme through details and comparisons, metaphor and simile.
2) Dramatic Action Thematic Significance
The Great Gatsby, as with all classic stories, deals with universal themes. Along with Nick’s personal thematic significance, there is also an overall meaning or Thematic Significance for the entire story.
A thematic significance statement for The Great Gatsby as a whole could be:
Ambition for money and another man’s wife leads to destruction.
1) Write down a Thematic Significance statement that encompasses the meaning of the overall story. In other words, what do all of the scenes and dramatic action together add up to mean in the end.
2) Infuse your story with this theme through details and comparisons, metaphor and simile.
When a story embodies universal themes for the characters themselves and through all of the elements and details of the story itself, a story becomes lasting.
Refer to Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple for more tips about each of the three universal plot lines and how to incorporate each one in your writing project and have fun doing it.