Kristen Otte

Finding Love and Laughter through Story


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The Theme of Your Story

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With the recent death of my stepfather, my mind has drifted a bit to life and how we live our lives. I like to think we all have themes to our lives, much like a story. Let me explain.

Theme is a key component of creating a great story. A theme is an idea or concept which is central to the story and usually literature explores more than one theme throughout the novel.

I like to think of theme as a way for the author to touch readers or as a way to illuminate something about real life. A few themes of the Adventures of Zelda series (Coming out soon!) are friendship, love, and overcoming obstacles. In my novel, a prevailing theme is forgiveness.

And in our lives, we have themes to the way we live whether we realize it or not. In my Live Your Best Story workshop, I ask participants to think about what message their life or story sends to others? How does the way they live their life help others or speak a truth about life?

For my stepdad, some themes in his life were kindness, generosity, and hard work. I saw those themes at work time and time again. He never said no if someone needed a hand. He managed his own roofing company for 35 years with continued success, even during recession years. I think we all could strive for those themes.

What message does your life send to others?

What is the theme of your story?

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Life Shifts in YOUR Story & Your Character’s Story

A life shift is defined as a moment or event that takes place after which you or your character will never be the same. A life shift is something that changes your life, your values or your worldview. A life shift can can be a positive or negative experience. For example, life shifts for people can be getting married, having kids, going on a mission trip, losing a job or losing a loved one. Some people may call life shifts turning points. But, I feel the phrase “turning point” makes it sound more extreme than a life shift could be. Sometimes life shifts are subtle. It could be a decision to quit something, to start a new habit or a conversation with a friend or loved one.

In my Discover Your Story Workshop, life shifts are key to understanding the theme of your story and where you see God and redemption in your life. I have participants spend time identifying the life shifts and rating them on a scale from -10 to +10. This exercise gets people thinking critically about the moments which shaped their life. Many times, especially if you let the idea of life shifts resonate for a few days, you may discover a few life shifts that surprise you or see a pattern in your life you didn’t expect.

If you are writing fiction, whether it is a short story, a serial or a novel, life shifts are just as important. You need to know when your character experiences something that forces change and transformation. You need to know what triggers your characters into a negative spiral or positive action. Sometimes you may not know all of the life shifts for a character until you start writing and getting into the story. But, I find it helpful to keep an ongoing list as you write to keep track and to ensure your character’s actions and reactions make sense.

What is a surprising life shift in your life so far?

What are some life shifts in your character’s journey?


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Finding Redemption in Your Story

Life is hard. We go through phases of our lives where nothing seems to go right. Friends drift away. Loved ones pass on. Relationships falter. We make mistakes. Bad things happen. Superstorms strike.

So when we read a story or watch a movie, it’s only natural to want the characters to overcome the obstacles and conflict. We want the characters to move beyond their flaws and succeed. We want the characters to find redemption.

We want the characters to find redemption because it gives us hope. When we see it on the screen or read it in a book, a small part of us remembers we can find redemption in our lives, despite our broken world.

The process of writing my book (When Light Hits the Path) caused me to look for redemption in my story. At times, the writing process was painful, but other times it was joyful. The process of writing the book taught me the importance of looking back over your life and looking for meaning in your story.

One way to find meaning and redemption in your story is to make a timeline of the significant moments in your life- the good and the bad moments. For example, your timeline may include a wedding, graduation, birth of a child, loss of a loved one, or loss of a job.

After you create the timeline, take time to reflect on the timeline.

What patterns do you see? What sticks out to you?

Maybe you realize that the negative moments in your life eventually turn out okay.

Or, you realize that a negative moment produced a blessing down the road.

Or, you begin to understand that your experiences prepared you for something important later in life.

You may not be able to make sense of all the tough moments of life (or the good moments). But, I hope you see a purpose and meaning to your life. I hope you find redemption because it’s there, hiding somewhere among your life’s stories.