Posted by: nancyisanders | April 20, 2015

Chapter Book: Take Your Universal Theme Up a Notch

ducks DSCN2273

Saturday my hubby Jeff and I visited the beautiful Huntington Library with our son and daughter-in-law. Sigh…it was so beautiful and such a nice day! We almost stepped on this mama duck keeping a sleepy eye on her babies. So cute!!!

In our last few posts, we’ve been exploring how to brainstorm ideas for a story for a chapter book. We’ve talked about brainstorming ideas for our character. We’ve talked about brainstorming ideas for our setting. Today we’re going to talk about our universal theme.

If you’ve been following along by now you should have a sentence that looks something like this:


Or more specifically:

The wannabe popular girl who lives next door to a famous kid-idol does her universal theme.

Let’s just say you have chosen the universal theme: goes to first day of school.

Now, let’s brainstorm ideas on how to take that up a notch in kid-appeal and overall pizzaz.

Of course, you want to have a problem in here. So brainstorm what kinds of problems your main character could be having with this universal them.

Make a list of ideas about potential problems she might have.

For example, she might not want to go to her first day of school. This is a very typical problem for this universal them and it’s perfectly fine to use it! You can always choose a typical problem for a universal theme to get started. For example, for the universal theme of getting a new babysitter, the MC doesn’t want to meet them and is worried about what they’ll be like or who it will be.

But then you want to take it up a notch.

Ask yourself why? Why is your MC dreading attending her first day of school, for example.

Spend time thinking about ideas and list them down.

Here are some ideas:
She doesn’t want to attend her first day of school because it’s public school and she wishes her teen idol went there, too. (A fun twist could be that he has to attend public school for a month while they register him for private school…so she meets him anyhow!)

She doesn’t want to attend her first day of school because she’ll miss being home and talking with the mail lady every morning who is the daily gossip that fills her in on everything going on at the teen idol’s house.

Along with that, you can also brainstorm ideas specifically about the universal theme itself. How can you take your universal theme up a notch?

Say I was writing a story about the baby ducks I saw (in the photograph). Instead of having them be worried about starting their first day of school where they learn to read and write, I could make it be the first day of SWIMMING school.

When I wrote a story about Dudley the dog, who appears once a year in Clubhouse Jr magazine, one time I used the universal theme of worried about going to school and made it be DOGGIE OBEDIENCE SCHOOL where he had to learn how to sit.

If we were choosing the universal theme of going to the first day of school for our wannabe popular girl, she could be worried about going to the first day of GUITAR SCHOOL or DANCE SCHOOL or MANNERS SCHOOL.

Think of how you can spin a unique angle on your age-old universal theme and that will help you come up with a fresh, new, and even commercial idea all on your own!

Once you get that idea, plug it into your sentence, along with the problem you came up with. Here’s what that might look like:

The wannabe popular girl who lives next door to a famous kid-idol is worried about going to her first day of DANCE SCHOOL because it’s a co-ed school and she’s heard rumors that her kid-idol will be going too (and she’s a klutz).

After you reach this point, just play around with what you’ve come up with and let your brain have fun with it. Walk around with it for a couple of days and see if there’s any other way you want to tweak it to take it up a notch in the pizzazz and kid-appeal factors.

Then keep an eye out for an upcoming post as we discuss what we’ll do next with our chapter book idea!


  1. Hi Nancy,
    So I have to mention…The suggested books finally arrived (Whipping Boy and Crispin and stink), so I am ready to roll 🙂
    I absolutely love The Whipping Boy and Crispin! I could not put either one down once I started to read them. I started this morning (early) and I was finished just after lunch with both books!!!! 🙂
    Fantastic stories 🙂 Now if I could only write that good 🙂

    • I’m so glad your books are in! And that’s our goal…to learn how to write like that!!!!

  2. Hi Nancy,
    I have a quick question (ok…2 questions…lol)
    I have been listening and working through the first module sent. If I check off the box as “mark the module complete” will I still be able to go back and re-listen to the audios?
    And….I see there is a place to upload a document….what is that used for?
    Sorry about the silly questions and thank you for any thoughts you have to offer 🙂

    • Hi Kathy, I’m not quite sure which class of mine you’re working through…is this the Middle Grade novel workshop? I don’t handle those orders, Suzanne Lieurance does. Try contacting her with your questions at SuzanneLieurance@hotmaildotcom. Let me know if that answers your questions!

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