Skip to content

Building theme: Pick 2

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

You may have seen some variation on this statement before:

Fast, Cheap, and Good. You can only pick 2.

This idea means you can only pick two options for any product or service. You can't have all three.

Some people will argue that it is built on fallacies or that you can have all three, but let's use this paradigm for creating your theme.

Using this model, what values are your characters wrestling with?

Perhaps you have a character who wants excellence, happiness, and success. But you refuse to let them have it all.

With this model as a guide, you could create a story that pushes your character to each extreme. How do they win, and how do they lose?

Perhaps the character has excellence and happiness but wants success. In their pursuit of success, they lose happiness. How do they respond? What do they do? Do they sacrifice excellence for success? Or do they return to their original status quo?

And, to be contrarian, is there a balance between all three somewhere near the center? Can they get there? And what must they do to achieve it?

Each of these models—the Griemas Square, the XY grid, and now the triangle—are all ways to visualize the abstract and explore it within your story. They are all options for you to test and find what works.

Can you suggest any tools for building the theme that you use? Please put them in the comments below.


David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.


Related Posts

Members Public

What's it for?

Seth Godin recently asked two questions in a blog post: "Who's it for? What's it for?" When writing, do you know who it's for? It doesn't have to be an audience with a capital "A." It doesn't have to be for any audience; it can be for just you. But

Members Public

Journey with your characters

Most people can't have the whole story in their heads. Too many pieces, too many moving parts. That doesn't mean you must plan it out. Once your character's story takes shape, then begin. Allow yourself to be surprised and adapt, and let your imagination take you on a journey. That

Members Public

The lies our characters tell themselves

Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon tells the story of a priest and woodcutter trying to understand a murder by listening to the testimonies of the multiple people involved. Ultimately, they struggle to find the truth amongst the lies. A similar type of story occurs within each of us. We tell ourselves multiple