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.