When I was a kid, we lived in a small house on a street of big houses – some bordering on mansions.
I fantasized about those houses all the time. I imagined huge rooms, wide staircases with mahogany
railings and balconies, marble floors and crystal chandeliers. I wished with all my heart that I could live
in a big house like the ones on my street, and it was a dream I pursued with determination when I got
older. Eventually, I got my first big house. But it came with an unhappy marriage. Later, I got another big
house, but that one came with leaky roofs, a basement that flooded and gigantic heating bills. Sigh. It
was such a glaring case of “be careful what you wish for.”
Everyone has experienced this sort of thing, that desire for something – or someone – with such intense
longing, only to find that when we get it, it’s not nearly as wonderful as we imagined it would be.
As writers, these kinds of common experiences can become themes that underlie our stories and give
them a humanity that resonates with readers. Everyone can relate to themes like “be careful what you
wish for,” “the grass isn’t always greener,” and “there’s no place like home.” And intertwining two or
more of these themes can give your story even more dramatic and emotional impact.
In my book, The Christmas Village, all three of these themes come into play. As the story begins, 12-
year-old Jamie is angry, hurt and sad because his father has left under a cloud of scandal. Jamie’s initial
longing is to escape his reality - to go someplace where no one knows him and where people won’t
gossip about his family. He and his mom travel to Jamie’s grandparent’s home in Vermont. This is the
first place where Jamie thinks that the “grass is greener.” He quickly finds though, that even in this small
Vermont town, people still gossip and they still know about his dad.
Next Jamie fixates on his grandmother’s miniature Christmas Village, which looks like such a perfect
place. He is sure that the grass will be greener in the village, and he wishes he could live there.
Magically, Jamie’s wish comes true. But over time, he comes to realize that the village is no different
from anywhere else. There are good people and there are people who do bad things. The grass isn’t
greener after all, and now it’s turned into a case of “be careful what you wish for,” because he’s gotten
his wish and it isn’t everything he hoped it would be. Now Jamie’s deepest desire is to find his way back
home in time for Christmas. The theme, “there’s no place like home,” is what fuels Jamie through the
rest of the story and drives the action toward its climax.
It’s been said that there are only seven stories in the world, and the same could probably be said for
themes. But take 100 writers and tell them to write a story using the theme, “be careful what you
wish for,” and you’ll get 100 totally different tales. It’s our unique perspectives and creative ideas that
differentiate our writing from everyone else’s, and that’s what makes writing such an awe-inspiring and
Come back later today for my review of The Christmas Village.