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Posts Tagged ‘Franz Gsellmann’

Untold stories will remain untold if we can only tell those with a complete historical record. (1)

A big thank you to Beth Anderson for sharing her wisdom with us. In this fabulous guest post, she walks us through how she found the theme and heart in two of her true-story picture books.

REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT (Illustrated by Susan Reagan 2/1/22) and FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE (Illustrated by Caroline Hamel 5/3/22)

prudence and franz together

WRITING TRUE STORIES WITH THEME AND HEART

by Beth Anderson

One of the topics that Alayne wanted to explore on her blog is theme, the big universal ideas we find in stories. When I explore a person or event for a potential story, I look for themes that kids can relate to—themes are “connect-ers.” As I write, more emerge, and I need to choose my focus. For me, themes are the easy part. But it’s the “heart”—that golden nugget I’m after—that’s the hard part. It’s a unique angle, frame, or lens that filters the story through me to find special meaning. That’s the piece that will make my story different than someone else’s and resonate at the end for the reader.

With REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT (2/1/22) and FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE (5/3/22), important themes naturally sprang from the stories as I researched. But with both, I had a problem. Limited information. And then the decision—do I abandon the story because I can’t verify or obtain all the details I need? This decision really rests on the potential “heart”—the thread that makes the story matter.

I discovered so much goodness with theme and character in both stories that I didn’t want to let them go. Untold stories will remain untold if we can only tell those with a complete historical record. I believe the heart is the vital part of any narrative, whether purely nonfiction or not. So if I can find a heart that rises above any missing details, I go after it and let the story be historical fiction. For me, what matters most is the story.

In REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT, I found a number of minor themes, but the most prominent theme is that of gender equality. You see it set up in the epigraph, before the story even starts.

These are the times that try men’s [and women’s] souls.”  – Thomas Paine

intro quote

That theme appears in the opening spread with Prudence as a child, expands when the women resist British rule with boycotts as weapons, and is reinforced by the women taking on the men’s work when they march off to Concord. Gender equality is also reflected in choices Susan Reagan, the illustrator, made. An early spread shows the men voting at the town meeting with a chorus of “Ayes,” and later, when Prudence rallies the women, we see their chorus of “Ayes.”

quilt min women

Though that theme is strong, it’s not the heart. My path to the heart started with examining “choices.” As I narrowed that idea, it moved toward rising above roles and breaking traditions to see possibility and one’s own capableness and agency. Personal independence requires throwing off confining expectations imposed by society—self-determination. I realized the most important take away from her story is, literally, the power of her story, a microcosm of the larger one of gaining independence. I’d seen that her story continues to inspire people today, despite the missing proofs. While passing down Prudence’s lantern makes me say “wow!” and contributes to the reality of her as a real person, it’s her story that makes that artifact significant and her story that carries forward her conviction and courage to empower others.

One look at the cover of FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE tells you it’s a very different story than PRUDENCE’s. But actually, it’s another story that deals with seeing possibility. My immediate connection to Franz Gsellmann’s story was that I was also a child who loved to “tinker, putter, and build.” I wanted to see inside objects, create, and figure out how things worked. To this day, I can’t help but ask, “What’s going on in there?”—the question that echoes through the book.

The twin themes that carry FRANZ’S story are joy in creativity and the power of curiosity and wonder. Clearly, I love epigraphs, because this book has one, too, setting up theme.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”  -Albert Einstein

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FRANZ was one of my early stories on this writing journey, and I hadn’t learned about the importance of finding the unique heart, vital idea, so what?, or take-away when I started it. But somehow, a heart idea was lurking in my mind all along. I revised this story over several years as I learned more about craft. The heart thread emerged as a question, so appropriate for a story about curiosity.

In FRANZ’S story, I was fascinated by the intersection of science/technology and art. As all sorts of questions popped in my head, the heart of the story, the driving question, took shape. While I don’t want to provide any spoilers, I’ll share this much: Does a machine have to produce a physical object? Is the value of an effort or idea in fulfilling expectations?

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While themes are universals, the heart is personal. It’s the job of the writer to select one or two themes, and then to define and support them with word choices, imagery, and focus. Theme is not the same as “heart,” but the two ideas are connected. Each enhances the other. I see theme as up front and out there, and heart as more stealthy, blossoming at the end.

My first choice is to bring heart to a strictly nonfiction story. But if I can’t have both, I’ll let the uncertainty of a few details be explained in back matter and go for the heart. In my experience as a reader and a writer, all the verifiable details in the world can’t make up for a story without heart.

Beth Anderson hi res squareBeth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE (10/2021), “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical gems on the way. Learn more about Beth at bethandersonwriter.com Signed copies of Beth’s books can be found here.

 

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