What the hell is this about?

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Rich.

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So, I'm writing, writing and thinking, thinking and writing. I'm thinking, what the hell is this novel about? The theme of this novel, what is it?

Well, it's about grief. It's about friendship. It's about what it means to be a hero. I know this to be true because that's how I planned it before I ever wrote a word.

Except that the more I write, the more it seems to be about other things as well -- prejudice, hubris, suicidal exploitation of the natural world.

But that's all right, that's the process of creative discovery (I imagine/hope/keep telling myself). I'm either adding depth or making a mess. That's why we edit, right?

The point is, how much do you wrestle with your stories' themes?

How much do you plan them out?

How much do you discover them after the fact?

And how much do you try to focus them on a single point?
 
The point is, how much do you wrestle with your stories' themes?
Though it may paint me in a poor light, I must say, I have never once even considered a theme of my writing. Is that a bad thing? Am I doing it, but not consciously/openly? Dunno. I tend to be more focused on characters and events in what I write. I've no great interest in there being any deeper meaning.
That being said, I do fret over how a given scene performs. Does it land? Does it have the impact I am seeking from it? Did my characters stray from the script too much and water down what I was trying to do with a given scene?
Is that the same as worrying over themes? I suppose its may be the micro version, as opposed to the macro. I want my individual chapters/scenes to deliver the emotion and development I need to move my story forward to my designated goal. The goal of my stories is resolution: for plots and for characters. Are they themes? Possibly.

How much do you plan them out?
Extensively, but it is never enough. My stories tend to land feature-complete from the perspective of the central arc, but it is then my job to plan how I get the characters - and thereby the reader - from the beginning to the end. That is a literal jigsaw puzzle, especially when you have multiple characters and threads. Where do things cross? When is this information unearthed? And so on.

How much do you discover them after the fact?
I've never had a revelation bout my writing after the fact. I've never looked back and seen it in a different light (well save thinking 'christ! that's awful!'). I have looked back at scenes ones complete and been astonished to see them turn out utterly differently than how I had planned. Many is the time I have pitched into a chapter, loaded up with all my planning, only to find, as I write it, that in fact the story wants to skew off in this direction, as it makes a more organic sense.

And how much do you try to focus them on a single point?
I don't believe I ever have, but that may be my failing. I have core ideas behind some of what I write (my self published trilogy is largely about faith and the power it has over humans; my YA series is a deliberate attempt corrupt the standard hero-saga, by having a hero pushed so far by those around them that they become the villain) but most of the stuff I write is just 'this sounds like it would be cool!'. Even in those works I am heading in a particular direction, I am less concerned as to whether the reader understands my goals. All I require from them is that they enjoy the ride. If they get more out of it, or if they find a deeper meaning, I suppose that's gravy, but its not where I am pitching.
 
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I do plan themes. I used to teach thematic writing, so I can't not do it--it makes the entire writing process easier for me once I know my theme. However, I have been surprised in the past to discover an unplanned theme written into a book once I finished it. I've also realised the opportunity for different themes mid-writing and gone back to make those new themes stand out more.
 
I think it's important to limit the themes in your book. Too many, and none are communicated well. I generally plan two themes--one associated with the MC's character arc (something about personal growth, interpersonal relationships, or the like), and one associated with the story arc (big-picture stuff around environment, society, technology).
 
Hey Rich,
This is a very interesting post, it certainly picks my head.
Are you talking about the story you PM'd me a while back? By the sounds of it I think your story has some sub-plots, no biggie. Because If I remember right your story I read was aimed at Young Adults. So on that note, I feel some sub-plots is a MUST. Young Adults today are easily distracted by technology etc. I don't know if its just me but these days I think they would rather watch the movie than read the book and why shouldn't they. A story has to really grab their attention and keep it. So regarding your THEMES. I would do a little digging, a little research and write themes for the YA market and themes that would really appeal to them. I would start from your genre and work from there. Go out for a costa, stalk some bookstores and spy on the YA BEST SELLERS thats what I do sometimes seriously. I can't believe I've just confessed that haha not all the time, okay maybe most of the time :p
If you wanna pick my head some more about your THEMES just give us a PM and YES, I do plan my themes obviously - I stalk bookshelves for crying out loud lol
I found using my synopsis very helpful to get a general feel of my story but to use it to observe and spot my themes. What works, what doesn't etc. Also for all my 48 chapters in ROSES AND THORNS I wrote a short paragraph for each one to tie up any loose ends, stop myself from tripping up which is a BIG NO! NO! when it comes to writing a saga or series etc. I used it as a reference and again to distinguish my themes.
Kind Regards,
Alix :)
 
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I swear by this book - Writers' & Artists' Guide To Write By Harry Bingham :)
 
Though it may paint me in a hallow light, I must say, I have never once even considered a theme of my writing. Is that a bad thing? Am I doing it, but not consciously/openly?
I have core ideas behind some of what I write (my self published trilogy is largely about faith and the power it has over humans; my YA series is a deliberate attempt corrupt the standard hero-saga, by having a hero pushed so far by those around them that they become the villain)...
The whole issue of theme is a slippery subject, isn't it? Your second quote above seems to be an answer, of sorts, to your question about doing it unconsciously. Is a core idea a theme? Could be...

--

I used to teach thematic writing, so I can't not do it--it makes the entire writing process easier for me once I know my theme.
That's really interesting. Can you sketch out the bones of what you taught? I'm fascinated by how other writers approach this issue.

I think it's important to limit the themes in your book. Too many, and none are communicated.
I agree. And this...
I generally plan two themes--one associated with the MC's character arc (something about personal growth, interpersonal relationships, or the like), and one associated with the story arc (big-picture stuff around environment, society, technology).
...I like a lot. This approach strikes me as one of those things that's obvious, once someone has told you!

--

Are you talking about the story you PM'd me a while back? By the sounds of it I think your story has some sub-plots, no biggie. Because If I remember right your story I read was aimed at Young Adults. So on that note, I feel some sub-plots is a MUST.
The thing I'm writing is a novel based on some of the ideas in the short story you read. I'm curious that you thought it was YA. That's given me food for thought. I hadn't intended it to be. The protagonist is young, but I'm not consciously writing for that market. I'm writing for the crossover market if anything. As is the way with a lot of fantasy, there's quite a range of ages to cater for (I bet Patrick Rothfuss has readers from 16 to 60 and more).

So regarding your THEMES. I would do a little digging, a little research and write themes for the YA market and themes that would really appeal to them.
You've confused me a bit, talking about sub-plots and themes. I'm not sure if you're talking about them separately, or if you're saying they're the same thing (I don't think they are).

If you wanna pick my head some more just give us a PM
Thanks, that's a kind offer.

I found using my synopsis very helpful to get a general feel of my story but to use it to observe and spot my theme
So you find your themes organically; you don't plan them in advance?
 
I naturally found them...
How?
I planned my protagonists thats how...
I wrote a two page profile for each one and all the rest of my characters obviously not in as much detail. I actually sent one to Barbara not long ago.
I knew straight away I wanted my story to appeal to both Male and Female, both Younger and Older readers.
Hence the reasoning half-way through my story ROSES AND THORNS we change protagonists to Abe's daughter - Angelique Gray, a female, a younger character - A shy, secluded teenager who must find herself after she is forced to run for her life out into a world she knows nothing about, she meets strangers for the first time, she has her first period - she's turning into a woman. She has her first encounter with the opposite sex etc.
Aren't they themes is some sort of way - THE THEME OF COMING OF AGE, SURVIVAL ETC.

Finding your themes is difficult but at the same time its something you must find and determine on your own and for me the best way for me was using my own resources, planning ahead, writing for a planned target, using my synopsis, my character and chapter summaries to give me the smaller details to make the bigger picture.

Also that's why Pete's suggestion of writing in 1st POV just won't work, but I'll give it a go. Personally I think if I do go down the 1st POV route, which for me as a writer is much easier and I have no problem with it. However I will only be telling one story Abe Gray's and for me that reduces my market and readers right down.
Theres too much to explain on here lol PM if you want to know more Rich :)

And yes from reading your short story for me your protagonists appeals more to YA.
If that wasn't your intention maybe you need to change her voice, traits and personality.
Make them of a more mature nature or change to 1ST POV.
That's only my unpublished opinion :)

Kind Regards,

Alix :)
 
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Finding your themes is difficult...
I'm not sure. It can be. Or it can be simple, if you start with a theme. Then the difficulty comes in trying to tell a story that explores the theme in a satisfactory way. My understanding of theme is that it functions something like a statement of truth (one possible truth, at least – I'll leave ultimate truth to the philosophers). For example, grief leads to growth is a statement that could be true, and if I wanted to write a novel with this as its theme, I'd be looking for all the different ways I could dramatize the idea, both to demonstrate its truth and its falsity, with my protagonist discovering its truth by the end.

Or, changing track completely, you could approach theme like @Howard, and not worry about it consciously at all.

And yes from reading your short story for me your protagonists appeals more to YA.
If that wasn't your intention maybe you need to change her voice, traits and personality.
Make them of a more mature nature or change to 1ST POV.
Yep, maybe I do. But I'm curious, how would changing to 1st person POV make the story less YA?
 
The whole issue of theme is a slippery subject, isn't it? Your second quote above seems to be an answer, of sorts, to your question about doing it unconsciously. Is a core idea a theme? Could be...
Well, this is my thing, and why I was a little reticent to reply. To me, the term 'theme' implies a large, maybe even nebulous concept that you want the reader to mull over while they read. Something like Love or Betrayal or The Quintessential Angst of the Human Dichotomy (I mock)...but you know? I just don't give a damn. I don't write to navel gaze or to moralise, and that is what the term 'theme' smacks of to me, though I understand I may be WILDLY off the mark there.:D
As said above, my only concern is to tell my story. Anything else you get from my writing was added by you. I just ain't that deep a person.

EDIT: I wrote "paint me in a hallow light"? The hell did I mean there? Shallow? Good grief...:rolleyes:
 
I'm not sure. It can be. Or it can be simple, if you start with a theme. Then the difficulty comes in trying to tell a story that explores the theme in a satisfactory way. My understanding of theme is that it functions something like a statement of truth (one possible truth, at least – I'll leave ultimate truth to the philosophers). For example, grief leads to growth is a statement that could be true, and if I wanted to write a novel with this as its theme, I'd be looking for all the different ways I could dramatize the idea, both to demonstrate its truth and its falsity, with my protagonist discovering its truth by the end.

Or, changing track completely, you could approach theme like @Howard, and not worry about it consciously at all.


Yep, maybe I do. But I'm curious, how would changing to 1st person POV make the story less YA?
Can I ask you one question Rich - What sort of readers are you writing for?
 
Yes all themes have their resolutions at the end of the story because your protagonists develop with the story and they come out somewhat changed for worst or better? Thats your choice as the writer.
And yes I have too agree, we have gone completely off track now lol :)
 
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Yep, maybe I do. But I'm curious, how would changing to 1st person POV make the story less YA?
The definition of the YA voice is almost impossible to nail down. If I were feeling snarky, I might say that it seems to largely involve being a terrible writer, but that's not helpful.
I think they are split between third and first person, so I'm not sure that's a factor. They do tend to dwell on emotional, relationship stuff more than none YA might, but that is hardly a solid rule.
I dunno, really, is the simple answer. Is it down to word usage? Do they just have to be a little more simple in their language?
 
I'm not sure. It can be. Or it can be simple, if you start with a theme. Then the difficulty comes in trying to tell a story that explores the theme in a satisfactory way. My understanding of theme is that it functions something like a statement of truth (one possible truth, at least – I'll leave ultimate truth to the philosophers). For example, grief leads to growth is a statement that could be true, and if I wanted to write a novel with this as its theme, I'd be looking for all the different ways I could dramatize the idea, both to demonstrate its truth and its falsity, with my protagonist discovering its truth by the end.

Or, changing track completely, you could approach theme like @Howard, and not worry about it consciously at all.


Yep, maybe I do. But I'm curious, how would changing to 1st person POV make the story less YA?

Through three of the seven ways to deliver the goods -

1. Interior monologues (her thoughts)
2. Interior emotion (her feelings)
3. The way she talks (Dialogue)

Have you done a character profile for her yet? How old is she? Wouldn't her age affect the way she behaves in certain situations, the way she sees the world and the people in it etc. Is your story for YA or not? Or don't you know your desired audience and category. Once you know all that everything should be a breeze well not a breeze less turbulent lol And I agree with Howard its a hard one - but I will say this with clarity comes confidence and a clear story, themes included lol :p
 
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I said I wasn't doing any writing today and why I'am BUMMING Litopia lol in a Literate sense. DAMN YOU LITOPIA!!! THIS IS SUCH A COOL PLACE TO HANG OUT ARGH!!!! LOL :):cool::p:eek:o_O
 
You've confused me a bit, talking about sub-plots and themes. I'm not sure if you're talking about them separately, or if you're saying they're the same thing (I don't think they are).

SubPlots - engage and initiate secondary themes (Not the same thing)

For the crossover market?

Okay cool :)

What would you say the crossover market is for the 21st century?
 
There is an interview with Ernest Hemmingway on the internet somewhere... In it he said he was hugely amused by all the discussion that had gone on about his story the Old Man and the Sea. He said they made some amazingly deep revelations about what he'd been trying to convey in this story, and in his opinion he had just written a story. I rarely think of themes - I just write stories, and I don't doubt I have a theme, it just might take someone else to discover what it is.
 
To me, the term 'theme' implies a large, maybe even nebulous concept that you want the reader to mull over while they read.
I suppose theme could be this. There are plenty of novels that navel-gaze page after page. I've always understood theme to be something more prosaic, a statement that your story examines, and (and I think this is the crux of it) something for the author to help in the telling. Themes that readers and critics might pull out of a story are (possibly) something else altogether. Your theme could be chocolate bars make you fat, and then your story follows a whole bunch of people who engage with chocolate bars in different ways, until finally you end up with a brown-mouthed fat bloke at the end: theme stated and shown to be true (true in the sense of the story and its particular circumstances, not necessarily in any way deeper than that). A theme could be something deep of course, but that's up to you.

--

@OperaDivaAlix, you've asked a bunch of questions, which I will try to answer, but for now I have to do the school run!

--

There is an interview with Ernest Hemmingway on the internet somewhere... In it he said he was hugely amused by all the discussion that had gone on about his story the Old Man and the Sea. He said they made some amazingly deep revelations about what he'd been trying to convey in this story, and in his opinion he had just written a story. I rarely think of themes - I just write stories, and I don't doubt I have a theme, it just might take someone else to discover what it is.
Yeah, this is what I was trying to say! I think theme, in the way we're discussing it here, can be a useful tool for a writer when crafting a story. But it's not for everyone; it's another tool in the author's box. Theme from the point of view of the reader is something else entirely.
 
Can I ask you one question Rich - What sort of readers are you writing for?
I write for a sharper, wittier, more learned version of myself (this is not an original idea – I've nicked it from something I've read, though I can't remember who first said it). As far as the market is concerned, my novel-in-progress is an epic fantasy for adults, with crossover appeal in the sense that I'm sure it would appeal to (some) teenagers as well. More specifically, I'm writing for the fantasy audience that likes character driven stories, magic that inspires wonder (rather than techno-joy), and mythological worldbuilding. I keep mentioning Patrick Rothfuss. If you liked The Name of the Wind, you might like my stuff.

Have you done a character profile for her [your protagonist] yet?
No, I haven't. That way of developing characters doesn't work for me. What I tend to do, after having had an idea for a character, is to write a scene or two with that character on-the-fly, as it were. I much prefer to discover my characters by putting them into scenes and seeing what they do, rather than writing out biographical facts. Character sheets leave me cold, I'm afraid. (Again, this way of working isn't an original idea of mine. I read it somewhere and then found that it works for me.)

What I was interested in when I started this thread was how other writers approach the issue of theme. I'm aware that the idea doesn't mean the same thing to everyone, and that some writers don't use it at all. As I said earlier, personally, I see it as something like a statement that you set out to prove (not in the way you set out to prove something in an essay, mind you). I see it as a tool in the writer's box, something you might use to help shape a story and give it a focus of meaning beyond the characters' objectives, if you enjoy working that way.

I'm not stuck with my theme. I just became aware that I was deviating from it, which wasn't a problem, but it did make me pause for a moment to reflect on where I was taking my story. From that reflection came this thread, because I wondered what others might do or think in the same situation.

What would you say the crossover market is for the 21st century?
The truth is, I have no idea. What I meant by it was what I said above – crossover in the sense of appealing to adults and teens.
 
Ah, you've all been chatty while I've been asleep, but to answer Rich's question way back in this thread, thematic writing (and speaking) is something heritage interpreters do. In case you aren't one of the three dozen people on the planet who know what heritage interpretation is, it's the communication of true stories about natural and cultural history. It's what a tour guide does at a historic site. It's what those signs at the national parks do. It's what the naturalist at a nature centre does. Its what the guidebook for a nature trail does. The goal of heritage interpretation is to not only convey information, but to provoke a reaction from the visitor. Heritage interpreters aim to communicate a message in a way that emotionally connects visitors to the resources they're interpreting. To me, that's a lot like what I'm trying to do as a creative writer, as well--provoke emotional reactions in my readers by telling a story they can relate to. Fiction, non-fiction...doesn't matter.

So, anyway, to condense a day-long workshop into a paragraph or two, in heritage interpretation, a theme is your take-home message. If people remember nothing else about what they've read, they should remember the theme. Themes are not topics (e.g.: friendship is not a theme, it's a topic). Themes are written as complete sentences that convey one idea. For my interpretation students, I'd have them practise theme writing by starting with a topic, then narrowing down to the message they wanted to convey. For non-fiction interpretation, that might look like this:
Topic: Insects
Specific topic: The importance of insects
Theme: Insects are critical to human survival because of the important ecological roles they play.

For fiction, it might look like this:
Topic: Friendship
Specific topic: Unlikely friends
Theme: Facing challenges together can forge friendships between enemies.

Once you have a theme, you can create 3-5 subthemes that support the main theme. In the insect example, I might have as subthemes: Insects pollinate many of our crops, Insects eat pests, and Insects recycle nutrients from dead animals and poo. See how each subtheme is also written as a complete sentence, conveying one thought. If you do your job right, people will remember your subthemes, too.

For the fiction example, you might create these subthemes: Bob and Joe hate each other because of an old family feud, Bob and Joe are stuck together in a burning building and have to work together to survive, Bob and Joe don't work well together at first, Working together shows Bob and Joe how much they are alike. The subthemes almost become the plot, when the idea is applied to fiction.

Once you've developed a theme and subthemes, it's easy to choose what to put into the story and what to leave out--if it doesn't advance the theme or support the subthemes, it gets chucked. This is particularly critical in interpretation where you've got masses of information, and usually only 250 words in which to convey your message. But I also find it helpful when writing fiction. It helps me cull those awesome scenes that actually don't advance the story, the sub-plots that meander to nowhere, the details that simply don't matter.

Anyway, there's a lot more subtlety to it--writing strictly by themes (at least in interpretation) can create technically flawless, but frightfully boring text, which is why my workshops were always at least a full day. But there's the highly condensed version.
 
I'm so happy to have discovered this! I love knowing new stuff. It's funny, I was in London briefly the other week, walking down The Mall away from Buckingham Palace, and there was a tour guide doing exactly what you've described above (it was some kind of history tour, something a little richer than your average guided stroll). His group was enraptured. And so was I for the few minutes I lurked at the back, getting a free slice of his narrative pie. Now that I understand what he was doing, it's easier to appreciate why he was so good. And even from the few minutes I spent listening, I understood that even the greatest empires will fade.

How you've applied the idea to fiction is intriguing. The first part – stating the theme as a sentence derived from a topic – is a lot like theme as I understand it. But your use of sub-themes is new to me – the way you use them to create a plot skeleton. There are all kinds of lightbulbs flashing in my mind right now.

You said...
If people remember nothing else about what they've read, they should remember the theme.
Do you apply that equally to your fiction as to your non-fiction? I mean, with your fiction, are you content for some of your readers to enjoy your stories superficially, or is your goal for all of your readers to be aware of the theme (that is, to be able to state it (feel it?) in terms similar to yours)?
 
Do you apply that equally to your fiction as to your non-fiction? I mean, with your fiction, are you content for some of your readers to enjoy your stories superficially, or is your goal for all of your readers to be aware of the theme (that is, to be able to state it (feel it?) in terms similar to yours)?

Do I apply it equally? Hm...that's hard to say. There's usually less riding on the communication of my theme in fiction than there is in non-fiction. Interpretive writing often has specific management goals--to encourage certain behaviour or attitudes that will protect visitors and the resource--but there are no consequences if a reader of my fiction misses the theme. Perhaps it's fair to say I write my fiction hoping I've conveyed a clear theme, but I don't lose sleep if not all my readers get it. I've worked on interpretive projects where it was essential that all readers understand the theme, because not getting it could lead to their death. There I did lose sleep, and did a lot of research on the exact wording of the message to ensure maximum comprehension. Thankfully, fiction's more relaxed.
 
I've worked on interpretive projects where it was essential that all readers understand the theme, because not getting it could lead to their death.
I have to ask, what was the project? I have an image of you writing the text to a dragon's lair family tour – burnings at 3, 4 and 6pm, maidens sacrificed at 8!
 
We have two glaciers here that come right down into the temperate rainforest. They're huge tourist attractions, because you can walk right up to them in shorts and t-shirts. Unfortunately, if you walk right up to them (or even if you stray off the marked path through the river valley below), you're likely to get killed by falling ice and rock, as some tourists have unfortunately discovered on their own. There are barrier ropes, but signage was haphazard for a long time, and people regularly jumped the barrier to get closer. The Department of Conservation hired me and a researcher from a local university to develop and test a range of hazard signage. In the end, we were able to vastly increase the number of people who stopped and read the signs, and the percentage of visitors who understood the hazards and stayed behind the barriers. Not only that, but our life-size ranger signs are so popular, they've had to replace them several times, because visitors hug them and high-five them. So we managed to tell people 'Stay the f*** away from the glacier!' and make them feel good about it. :)

Here's one of my husband's colleagues having fun with our ranger-dude, next to one of the hazard signs (that's the glacier in the background).
FranzSignFun.jpg
 
So, I'm writing, writing and thinking, thinking and writing. I'm thinking, what the hell is this novel about? The theme of this novel, what is it?

It was a dark day for me when I discovered that zero out of three of my writing friends knew what a theme was. Good grief. One of them had self-published her novels. She sells them in the grocery store, thrusts them into the hands of elderly ladies ambling towards the bakery.

This was a woman edging past sixty. Didn't she go to school?

A theme is the overarching idea. It isn't always something deep and I don't think there are themes of more or less value, necessarily... but instead... themes well executed or ... not. I don't think it has to be a message, necessarily, although I imagine it can. But it's been my observation that you'll recognize the theme of something when you hear it, even when it's your own work.

I know my three friends faces lit up when I told them what their themes were. Good golly.

Well, it's about grief. It's about friendship. It's about what it means to be a hero. I know this to be true because that's how I planned it before I ever wrote a word.

Oh. So you already know all of the above. I see. Alrighty then. I see I'm not needed here.

Except that the more I write, the more it seems to be about other things as well -- prejudice, hubris, suicidal exploitation of the natural world.

But that's all right, that's the process of creative discovery (I imagine/hope/keep telling myself). I'm either adding depth or making a mess. That's why we edit, right?

The point is, how much do you wrestle with your stories' themes?

I don't. I might, someday. But I haven't yet. Maybe I should. Theme happens. often when I don't mean it to.

Let me take that back. I don't wrestle with what the theme is, or if there's a theme. But, I'm not happy with my themes. I kind of don't pick them. I sit down to write a fun story and when I come up for air horrible things have happened. Dark stuff. Then I gotta finish it -- because it makes sense -- because I see a pattern and to me -- even though the subject matter isn't pleasant -- there's something I need to find out -- something within the pattern I need to find out. Which means I gotta go back there. Dammit. And it's not that I don't like my stories, or even my themes.

I write about the things I care about but showing people what you care about isn't always that great. Sometimes people think the reason someone writes about something dark is because they like the dark thing. But that's not always the case. The truth is, there are an endless number of reasons why someone might write about something evil or dark or repugnant.

I'm told my writing is controlled. I wish I could control my writing. I'd write something light and flirty.

How much do you plan them out?

Well I don't. How do you do that?

How much do you discover them after the fact?

They're not planned but not a surprise. I've noticed with writers I enjoy, the same themes return over and over again. The stories are different, the themes aren't. I know in my own writing, the same themes come up over and over again, in different worlds, and different times. I want to say theme is the connective tissue, the meaning weaving ideas together throughout the story. It's different from plot, which I probably shouldn't speak about, but my wild haired guess is that plot is a different type of connective tissue, related to pacing and the development of the action within the story.

And how much do you try to focus them on a single point?

Well, I don't try to hard. People aren't cooperative. What I would suggest, since you've given me this platform, is to look for snags in your fabric after you're done. I mean that literally and figuratively.

And to return to what you said earlier...

Well, it's about grief. It's about friendship. It's about what it means to be a hero.

I don't think these are your theme. I think these are the ideas which serve the bigger idea. What friendship means, and grief, and being a hero.... the bigger idea which unites these three things... maybe that's the theme of your story. Maybe you don't know what it is yet.

And one theme that often comes up, especially in fantasy .... is magic. Magic isn't only a thing, it's an idea. What does it mean to have magic, to use it, what principles does it serve, what are it's parts... how does it play into the lives of everyday people..... how do those in power use it.... how can it be abused ..... what price do people pay for magic.... is magic more or less than what the people in the world say it is .... what is it value .... how is it different from science or math or other things we can make sense of...

In one of my stories, magic is a theme. And it's a theme I've always written about. Form or substance. Material world or spirit world.

Not sure. Maybe themes are best posed as questions.
 
So we managed to tell people 'Stay the f*** away from the glacier!' and make them feel good about it. :)
Brilliant!

--

I don't think these [grief, friendship and what it means to be a hero] are your theme. I think these are the ideas which serve the bigger idea. What friendship means, and grief, and being a hero.... the bigger idea which unites these three things... maybe that's the theme of your story. Maybe you don't know what it is yet.
I think you're right, and I like your idea of my theme being something that unites these three. According to @Robinne Weiss's ideas above, these would be topics.

Maybe themes are best posed as questions.
Or as particular statements to be examined: grief causes personal growth, friendship does not have to be transactional, to be a hero is to be selfless.

Now, is there an overarching statement that could unite these three? I'm gonna have to think about that.

And one theme that often comes up, especially in fantasy .... is magic. Magic isn't only a thing, it's an idea. What does it mean to have magic, to use it, what principles does it serve, what are it's parts... how does it play into the lives of everyday people..... how do those in power use it.... how can it be abused ..... what price do people pay for magic.... is magic more or less than what the people in the world say it is .... what is it value .... how is it different from science or math or other things we can make sense of...
Yes. More things to think about. And believe me, these ones I think about a lot – so far not satisfactorily. In real life we (species we) often try to remake the Earth to fit our needs – ultimately damaging it. I'm interested in using magic in fantasy to explore ideas related to this. Still thinking, still thinking...
 
Or as particular statements to be examined: grief causes personal growth, friendship does not have to be transactional, to be a hero is to be selfless.

Now, is there an overarching statement that could unite these three? I'm gonna have to think about that.

Maybe....

It's only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. ~ Antoine de St Exupery

Couldn't resist.

Yes. More things to think about. And believe me, these ones I think about a lot – so far not satisfactorily. In real life we (species we) often try to remake the Earth to fit our needs – ultimately damaging it. I'm interested in using magic in fantasy to explore ideas related to this. Still thinking, still thinking...

The one I like is that we make god in our own image.
 
It's only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. ~ Antoine de St Exupery
That's it. You got it! ;)

The one I like is that we make god in our own image.
Sure, and it's undoubtedly true. The shape of any particular god speaks volumes about the values of the culture that created it. I'm going to have to stop thinking about this for a moment before I get overwhelmed. So many interesting things, so little time!
 
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