Theme Mastery: How to Write Meaningful Stories

An online course that will help you write meaningful stories with powerful messages without turning off readers.

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"Theme Mastery changed the way I write."
- Hope Ann,
Author of The Legends of Light

Learn What Great Storytelling Looks Like

Gain clarity on what distinguishes powerful stories from preachy ones. You'll get an in-depth understanding of how great writers succeed at this and how you can do the same.

Create a Thematic Outline

Learn what steps to follow to weave a powerful theme throughout your entire novel. At the end of the course, you'll have created a detailed 6-10 page outline for your novel's theme.

Write Stories that Change Readers

Learn the tools & techniques you need to transform readers' lives. After taking this course, you will know why certain stories impact readers and how you can do the same in your writing.

This course is currently closed for enrollment until late Spring/early Summer. Sign up for the waitlist below to be the first to know when we open enrollment again!


"Theme Mastery gave me a purpose in my writing." - Emily Voeller


Why Theme Mastery?

Many works of Christian fiction today are preachy, cliched, and forgettable.

This shouldn't be the case.

Christian writers of the past used to write powerful stories.

Just consider works like:

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Classical writers knew something about storytelling that modern writers have forgotten.

What if you could learn what they knew?

"Theme Mastery taught me that writing good, Christian literature without being preachy is possible, and gave me the tools to do so. Though before I was tentative about putting messages in my stories, completing Theme Mastery emboldened me, and creating themes has become my favorite part of the writing process."

- Audrey Caylin


How Theme Mastery Works

This course combines the techniques of the classical masters with lessons from modern writing teachers and condenses them into practical steps you can take to write powerful stories.

Each lesson explains how to apply theme to one specific aspect of writing--whether that be a plot, villain, scene, minor character, or character arc.

The course looks at advice from writing instructors like Aristotle, Samuel Johnson, and Robert McKee, breaks down their sometimes-complex thoughts into straightforward insights, and shows you how to implement this advice in your writing.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for writing great fiction.

The map for writing great Christian literature that will resonate with readers has already been drawn.

All you need is your own copy of that map.

Here's what everyone who enrolls in the course will receive:

  • Over 20 self-paced lessons with close to 6 hours of content
  • A workbook that helps you construct a detailed thematic outline for your story
  • 2 live Q&A sessions with your instructor

"This is probably the single best writing investment you will ever make."

- Kate Flournoy


Here's What You'll Be Learning

Theme Mastery examines theme and explains how to write stories that communicate strong messages without being preachy or obnoxious. There are five different sections to this course.

Module One: Theme in Literature

This module gives you the 30,000 foot view of theme. I explain:

  • Why theme is important.
  • What impact an author can have when they use theme effectively.
  • How to choose a powerful theme and message for your story.
  • How to make sure you're competent enough to tackle a certain theme.

Module Two: Theme & Protagonist

This module looks at how to craft a powerful character arc for your protagonist. I explain:

  • What an Experiment in Living is.
  • Why Experiments in Living are crucial to creating powerful themes that aren't preachy.
  • How to use Experiments in Living to construct the three basic types of character arcs.
  • How to realistically portray the process of change in a person's life.
  • How Scripture and real life enable us to write powerful themes.

Module Three: Theme & Protagonist

This module looks at how to weave plot and theme together. I explain:

  • How theme gives your plot meaning.
  • How to use theme to craft extremely effective endings.
  • How to weave theme into every single chapter in an effective and powerful way.
  • How to practically develop a theme over the course of a story.

Module Four: Theme & Side Characters

This module looks at how to weave every single character into your story's theme. I explain:

  • How to make themes broad as well as deep.
  • How to use foil characters effectively in your storytelling.
  • How to use theme to create unique, vivid villains.
  • How to use theme to connect all your characters together in a powerful way.
  • How to use theme to create memorable side characters.

Module Five: Final Mechanics of Theme

This module closes the course by looking at a couple final topics. I explain:

  • How writers can balance multiple themes in their works.
  • How to apply the principles of theme to explicitly Christian stories.
  • What it looks like to take everything you've learned and weave it together into a cohesive story.

Lessons come with homework exercises that help you take what you've just learned and apply them to your current work-in-progress.

By the end of the course, you'll have put together a comprehensive outline for how to weave theme into your entire story.

"Josiah gives practical advice on how to actually write something powerful, without the preachiness. Every time I review a lesson, I gain a new insight, because each one is packed with so much fantastic, practical, and Christ-centered advice. I've listened to "How to Create a Positive Character Arc" at least four times. And each time I've gained more."

- Olivia Giordano

Course Curriculum


What Students Say About Theme Mastery

"I learned more from this course than from two college level writing courses I took previously. Each lesson had me grinning in excitement at how manageable and thrilling theme actually was when I knew what I was doing. I can't recommend this course highly enough. It completely changed the way I wrote and plot my stories and is a must-have for any Christian writer."

- Hope Ann, Author of the Legends of Light Series

"Theme Mastery changed my entire writing life. I learned more than I was ever expecting - and I came to the course with high hopes. The course opened my eyes to reevaluate the world around me. I learned about myself & other people, and delved more into my faith and walk with the Lord."

- Jane Maree

"Before I did the course my ideas of story crafting were vague and I worked by trial and error. Now I know what makes a good story and what doesn't and feel far better equipped to write meaningful stories that touch lives."

- Amy Ullrich

"If you have a pretty solid novel idea, or are already writing short stories regularly, you need to understand theme. If I hadn't taken this course, I would have had to figure everything out on my own. The investment of both money and time is well worth the payout of a solid grip on theme. You'll take the concepts learned in Theme Mastery with you for your entire writing journey."

- Bethany Rose


Can You Risk Misunderstanding Theme?

Many Christian writers today try to write without understanding what the classical masters knew about theme.

As a result... well, how many times have you heard people dismiss Christian fiction as sub-par and niche?

I don't want you to write sub-par stories.

The best way to write meaningful stories that impact lives is to learn the techniques of the classical masters.

You can do what I did and spend six years reading classic literature and studying what they did effectively.

Or you can take a six hour course that summarizes what they did and helps you apply it directly to your own writing.

"If you want to learn how to write a story that challenges and changes people (including yourself!), this is the course to take."


Want Personalized Guidance?

Want to make sure you're applying the principles you learn in this course accurately in your writing?

That's what the premium version of Theme Mastery is for.

If you choose this enrollment option, you'll get 3 one-on-one 45-minute calls with me where I'll:

  • Look over and critique your thematic outline.
  • Give you feedback on how well you're applying theme.
  • Answer any questions you have about theme.
  • Make sure you're going in the right direction.

You'll schedule these calls with me after you complete the 2nd module, the 3rd module, and the 5th module.


Do You Want to Help Your Readers Experience Truth?

Most resources on theme only touch on one or two aspects of the subject—like character arcs or foil characters.

Theme Mastery is the only resource I know of that contains everything you need to know about theme all in one place.

Even better?

It's all taught from a Christian perspective.

I believe that this course will give you what you need to write great stories as a Christian. That's why I offer a 30 day money back guarantee with this course. If you begin taking this course and don't believe you're learning anything (or it's just not the right fit for you right now), I don't want your money. Instead, just email me at [email protected] and I'll give you a free refund.

Struggling financially? There are a limited number of scholarships available. Email me at [email protected] with your situation and I'll let you know if you qualify.

I want to help you learn how to connect with people through storytelling in a way that impacts the world for Christ.

The best way to do that is by understanding theme and mastering it in your stories.

Has this moved you to learn to write like the classical masters?

Fill out the form below to be the first to know when the course opens up enrollment again!


"This course is well worth the money. I've read testimonials where people say that, and it's hard to believe sometimes, but these were totally right. Theme Mastery has totally changed my writing and outlining technique." - Shannon Voeller

Your Instructor

Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf

I'm Josiah DeGraaf, a high school English teacher, the fiction content manager for the Young Writer's Workshop, and the editor-in-chief of Story Embers.

I write because I'm fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really bad decisions with their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don't? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering?

These questions drive me as a storyteller. Great stories are those that both teach and delight readers, and for 5 years, I've been helping newer writers learn how to write these kinds of stories through my work at Kingdom Pen, the Young Writer's Workshop, and Story Embers.

This course explains one aspect of strong storytelling.

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact me ([email protected]) in the first 30 days and I will give you a full refund.
Can family members take this course with me?
Yes! If you're using the basic version of the course, you only need to purchase one copy of the course per family as long as you all use the same account. If you're using the premium version and want multiple family members to have one-on-one coaching calls, there will be an additional charge. Please contact me at [email protected] if you want to pursue this latter option.
I'm homeschooled. Can this course count for high school credit?
As-is, the video lessons alone are not enough to count as a high school course. However, I do have a supplemental homeschool guide inside the course that adds enough reading and writing assignments to this course to make it a 1/2 credit high school course.
Question Not Answered?
Email me at [email protected] with your question and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.