How to Write a Novel

Step Thirteen: Theme and Variations

Congratulations! You’ve finished your first draft!

Give yourself a pat on the back – especially if it’s your first one, which is by far the hardest.

Now it's time to let that sit and rest for a while, let the dust settle before you go back for round two.

In the meantime, we can look at some themes and details that will help bring additional depth and breathe new life into your writing when you come to work on your second draft.

As you've been writing your draft you've probably been instinctively following themes appropriate to your story - themes can be specific or very abstract - a mother's love, the colour blue, loss, autumn, reflections or flying. Whatever your themes may be, it's time to take a look at them and see how they work throughout your story.

Try to identify the themes you've included in your first draft. It can help to see the kind of language you use to describe things and the passing details you mention.

Go back to your scene plan and add notes about each theme you have noticed in your writing. For example, imagine you found that during your first draft you kept mentioning the birds flying. You can now take this motif and consider how it can be used to subtly reflect on the story. Perhaps adding a flightless bird in a particular scene could be a significant symbol? Perhaps the lack of birds in a given scene could also be useful as a gesture?

As an author, you ought to know exactly what time it is, and also what the weather is like, at any given moment in your story. Having this information will help consistency and clarity – which translates to your world feeling more real.

The time of day and weather are also often used as themes, for example some stories are entirely set at night, or always in the rain. Consider how this affects the mood of the story. Time and weather are common themes and so we'll cover them in more detail below.


Ideally, you should know the year, month, day, time of day and even exact time of day – even if you never mention it specifically to your reader. Then, as the real time scene unfolds, make sure time passes accordingly; otherwise your characters may find themselves in a perpetual midday.

Thinking about what time of day it is can also add realism to your scene, if you weave in the world around your characters. Is the scene happening around 8am or 5.30pm? Then aren’t the streets filled with harried commuters? Or is it the middle of the afternoon? So the only people in sight are mothers with children, and retirees.

When going over longer time periods, you can still refer to specific months and seasons, or even years, to give a sense of weight to the passing of time. Saying that June turned into August anchors readers in your world a lot more than saying eight weeks passed.


As an author, the possibilities of building atmosphere and mood with the weather has probably occurred to you long before now.

Try to go beyond the basic weather options: stormy for an angry scene, rainy for a depressed scene, sunny for a happy scene, ray of sunshine through the clouds for a good realisation.

There are many different types of each of the weather conditions above, a storm can be a howling wind with needles of rain, or it could be thunderous and rolling. Rain can be coming down in violent blankets, a miserable grey drizzle, or it could even be huge dollops of life giving nourishment. The sun can beat down like bricks, searing skin and parching throats.

In this way, rain could represent new life and happiness, a storm could be excitement and joyful exhilaration, the sun could be oppressive and draining.

The key is to be as specific as possible, and to avoid clichés as much as possible. Breaking them can be refreshing.

As with time: continuity, consistency and awareness are important. Make sure you know what the weather is like, so you don’t accidentally have it gloomy one minute and clear blue the next.

Task Thirteen: Work themes, times and weather into your first draft.

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