1. Lumipon
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    Lumipon Member

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    A setting for certain themes

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Lumipon, May 20, 2012.

    Hello everyone! I am Lumipon, a freshly registrated member. I am a Finn, so any nasty grammar mistakes will be attributed to that, so I'll apologize in advance.

    But this is not a topic for introductions, so Iäll get on with the issue at hand.



    I have a few specific themes for a story:

    Theme 1: People are not equal. Someone will always be more skilled, stronger or more intelligent. How do you cope with inherent inferiority?

    Theme 2: Modern society is very competetive. People will respect you if you have high education, large income or political power. How will you react to these omnipresent expectations?

    Theme 3: Do you need to reach higher to find happiness? What makes a person content with themselves?

    Bonus Theme: The clash of ambition vs. talent.

    These are very topical questions, though some might call them "First World Problems". But depression and burn-outs caused by the ever-competetive social atmosphere in countries like Finland are real problems. Some parents have ridiculous axpectations of their children, pushing them to actively improve their bodies, cognitive abilities or, say, musical skills. (which is not a bad thing in itself, mind, but it does cause a lot of stress). Even the schooling system is guilty of this by essentially forcing you to choose your career path in an age as low as 15 (in worst cases). And Im not even tanking about the disparity of natural talents yet.

    So I have been conjuring up a setting where these issues are emphasized, so the plot, setting and themes would complement eachother.

    I though about the "real world" optiong for a while, seeing as these themes are very relevant to modern society, but I decded that it would be too boring. Exploring gloomy themes set in the "boring" real world didn't seem very inviting. Plus my favorite books ( and games ) are usually some sort of fantasy. Though if you have some sweet advice on how to make that realistic setting more inviting, go for it.

    My first candidate was actually using a setting from a manga called Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto. You could say that the world fit perfectly with my themes. Let me explain:

    But using a premade setting would label my story as "fanfic". While this would certainly be true, fanfics are hardly considered thought-invoking.

    So I have pondered original ideas. Let me list a few:

    Idea 1: A modern setting, where some people possess ESP-type powers, like pyrokinesis or telepathy. The problem, however, is that these powers should be in general need: Essential to maintain the economical or political structure of the society.

    Idea 2: Iterate on the Naruto-universe. A supernatural resource, basically available to all, however some are naturally more gifted than others. The resource is mainly used to wage war, so high on demand.

    Idea 3: A dystopian future where people are evaluated at birth by their genes. The more intelligent will get better education, the strongest are trained as athletes, and the "worst" are left with second rate education.

    Idea 4: Give up and go realistic. As I'm mulling it over right now, it doesn't seem as bad, but I need tips on how to make it interesting.



    I am most thankful for any and all suggentions, tips, advice and criticism.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Choose a setting for the needs of the story, not the theme. I wouldn't suggest choosing the story for the theme either. Start with a story concept, add characters and setting as needed to support the story, and let the theme leak in from your own values.

    Writing around a theme is bound to come across as preachy.
     
  3. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Idea three seems interesting, and perhaps most conducive to the themes you're trying to play with. The cold calculus of utilitarianism and eugenics could lend to a kind of hyper-meritocracy - a culture of incredible competition, pressure, focus on aptitude, etc.

    It also seems like it would be relatively doable to portray the setting realistically, but on the other hand, would allow you to give a supernatural angle a shot, if you want.

    Then again, I'm a bit biased toward subjects of gritty realism, existentialism, sci-fi stuff, dystopianism, etc. Good luck.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Cogito. Don't start with a theme and try to build a story around it. Start with characters, build a story with them, and you will find your theme oozing its way into your story whether you want it there or not.

    Writers are people, and usually very thoughtful people. They have concerns about the world and philosophies they are constantly challenging in themselves (if they're honest with themselves, that is). It is just about impossible for a writer who is engaged and concerned to NOT recognize a theme in his story. It's okay if you don't see it in the first draft, but when you review that draft, you'll see what your story is really about, themewise. You can magnify the theme and bring it into sharper focus in your next drafts.

    Be aware that the theme you recognize in your story on review might not be one of the themes you think are most important to you. One of the wonders of writing is that the process of creating forces you to explore yourself, and you may see a theme emerging that you had never considered before, at least not formally. But you may find that it's something of immense importance to you.

    Use your writing to explore yourself. Give yourself your head, go places you've never been in your imagination, and you just might find yourself blowing your own mind. And that's very cool.
     
  5. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless Contributing Member

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    While I agree with both Cogito and Minstrel, if you want to include these things then they will need to be kept in mind while creating your world.

    Idea 3 reminds me of the movie Gattica. In it, you basically choose your child's genes before birth, leaving those conceived naturally as second class citizens because they're not perfect.

    I like these themes in real world setting, but hey, hey that's what I write.

    What I think, really, is that if you want these themes, you need to keep them in mind while you decide what the story is. Once you have your characters, plot (or vague idea of one if you're like me) then the setting will fall into place.
     
  6. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I think it's actually Gattaca... but yeah, I was also reminded about this movie by your idea 3. If I remember correctly, it's a futuristic sci-fi setting and most of your themes are covered in that movie.
     
  7. Lumipon
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    I think it would only sound preachy if you gave definitive solutions. My goal is only to explore and reflect. But I might be wrong. It has worked for me in the past, I think.

    My inspiration always comes from broad ideas. Like self sacrifice, fear of expression or just the good old love. I think is almost physically impossible for me to start with story or characters, because I use both to explore the idea. I can create any number of different personalities who will approach the same issue from a different angle. I find it difficult to just start writing something without at least some core to build around.

    And the setting is important, because society influences a character in a big way. The role of family, individualistic or community orientated, politics, religion, even racial and sexual stereotypes or lack thereof. I think that the setting aöready defines the character in a way, or at least the ways you can explore them.

    Basically, when I decide a theme, I have already conjured a list of possible characters, settings and plot developements in my head. I'll see if I can explain that better:

    Theme
    The reason I write in the first place, an idea to explore. But ideas are always rooted in something real. In literature this means the setting, the characters and the plot.

    Setting
    I use the setting as a device to explore the idea. The setting allows the characters to have goals, a history, a culture. It affects the way the charactes perceive the world and each other. Although Depending on the theme, the importance of the setting varies. For example love is universal, and exists within any culture, fantastic or otherwise.

    Characters
    The characters are the meat of it, though. They tackle the theme in their own way and can explore it in a way the audience can identify. They have different values, motivations and personalities, but they also share the same social enviroment.

    Story
    Story and characters go hand in hand. A story begins when somebody decides to act. It may be a "bad guy" trying to take over the world or a hero who decides to take up arms against a force no man can hope to control. Either way, characters act.

    So I don't think I could create a story without characters first. And characters are influenced greatly by the setting. And the inspiration I draw from is the theme.

    Well, it might be possible to just start with a story and go from there, little like a short story, when you use the story to explain the characters.

    Or I could make characters tackling these issues... but without a broader world with ideals and expectations it might be difficult. I'll make a draft and see how it'll turn out. Low expectations, though.


    A world where your role in life is decided by a computer, sequencing your DNA and figuring out your genotype. People would be divided into different "academies" where they would be raised to fill an occupation decided by their genes. The world would be pretty much like the real world aside from this convention. Though people with enough pull could falsify these results, having their kids assinged "higher" than they normally would.

    The MC could be a police, investigating an anti-government terrorist faction that has had enough of the genetic evaluation of people. It would be the MCs duty to stop them, but he might harbor some sympathy towards them.

    ... or something like that. It would be pretty sweet.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don;t agree. It is often glaringly obvious when a writer is focusing more on a theme than on the story, even if no solution or preferred path is promoted.

    The theme has undoubtedly influenced the shape of the story without you consciously having to steer it. Best to leave it right there. Waft the reader with a breeze. Don't pound the reader with a wrecking ball.
     
  9. Lumipon
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    Elaboration please.

    So it is fine to create a story with a theme but not to explore an idea through a story? Isn't this just an issue of delivery rather than differences of two starting points?
     
  10. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    I think, although I could be wrong, that what Cogito means is, don't say openly "This is the theme of my book! This is what I am exploring!" The theme should be more general, and incorporated somewhat into various things that happen, and lightly explored. It should be present, but it should rarely make itself really obvious and noticed - subconsciously noticed, but not noticed to the point of being intrusive. Theme is not a thing to be pushed into a person's face.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You don't need to create a story around a theme. Write a story, and you're bound to discover within it a theme that is important to you. Chances are, if you've been thinking about a particular theme around the time you came up with your story, that theme is already represented in the story.

    You can hardly write a story that DOESN'T carry a theme.
     
  12. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I think it is wrong to think that certain theme will work better in a certain setting. If you are a capable writer you can incorporate any theme, specially the ones you have mentioned, in any setting.
     
  13. Mckk
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    I don't think there's anything wrong with writing a story based around a theme - although of course you do run into the risk of being over preachy but that's what rewrites are for, right?

    Now I don't pretend to know what many classic authors' writing process is like, but the few classics that I've read often have no story at all. Even 1984 - barely any story in it, other than general tension created according to the world that it's in - and yet it's worked. It would seem like there're certainly books out there that are centred around a theme and the story is just a tool to deliver the message the author wants to bring across. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you execute it well so it's not too "in you face" and you convince the reader through the decisions, actions and reactions of your characters rather than tell them what to think.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you're starting from a theme - especially a theme like the ones you've chosen - you should probably try writing essays instead of fiction. Fiction should be far more questing in nature; it should be an honest examination of the writer's own soul. This is why I said earlier that you might find yourself blowing your own mind if you're honest with your fiction.

    The main problem with, say, Ayn Rand's fiction is that her characters don't come across as real people. They're just illustrations of aspects of her theme, and her theme is something she has already made up her mind about. She doesn't use her fiction to explore herself or her ideas honestly; she doesn't want to learn from the process of writing. She'd made up her mind, and she designed her characters and plots to illustrate the conclusions she'd already come to. This results in pretty weak fiction.

    The late John Gardner, novelist and famed writing teacher, maintained that fiction should be "radically open to persuasion." He meant that the writer should be willing, even eager, to throw away his foregone conclusions and accept new truth if that's what his writing reveals to him. That's honest writing, and readers respond to it.
     
  15. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    This doesn't mean you have to work from theme, to setting, to characters, to plot.

    For example, you could start with a well-fleshed-out character idea, then ask yourself 'what kind of setting would create such a person?'

    Or you could even start with a plotline, and ask yourself 'what would this character have to be like in order to do the plot-necessary actions?' (For example, maybe they need to rebel against the social order, which suggests someone who either has little interest in comformity or has some motivating force strong enough to overwhelm their desire to fit in, such as an intolerance for perceived injustice.) And also ask 'what setting is needed for this plot to occur?' (For example, in order for the young hero to defeat the evil overlord, the country has to have an evil overlord, and that'll impact on their society in a myriad of ways.)

    In short, there is no required order for designing a story idea. You can go in literally any direction.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    One thing I'm wondering is: Are you using this novel to persuade others, to teach them about your opinions on these themes? Or purely to explore them yourself, creating a setting and then seeing what happens?

    I agree that starting with a theme is a dangerous idea, especially if your goal is to persuade. It's likely to give you a preachy, shallow story. (Shallow in the sense that the settings, characters, and events will be subordinate to the theme, and you'll be fighting that while trying to give them character and depth.)

    If you do feel that you can't let go of your theme, I would nevertheless advise you to deliberately avoid a setting that's designed to highlight the theme. A story that's consciously based on a theme is already on dangerous ground; it should be approached ever so carefully and delicately. A setting that emphasizes that theme is likely to destroy any subtlety.

    Having said that, I'm going to go on and touch on the theme. :) I think that using fictional attributes to depict the inequality between people is likely to be too abstract to pull a reader in. I could easily see someone saying, "Well, yeah, why should anyone be treated special just because they're telepathic? Now, if they were really _smart_, then rewarding that would make sense."

    ChickenFreak
     
  17. Lumipon
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    That is actually what I want to create. I have nothing against essays, but I love, I mean LOVE fiction that makes me reflect on myself, my own situation and the world. I love the Discworld series exactly for this reason. They are funny, exiting and most importantly: thought provoking.

    And I realized...

    You are right, and I have been wrong. I thought that the theme needs to be presented. But rather, it is something that exists withing the entertainment and only to facilitate thinking, not to force it. Whethe the reader realizes the theme being there is left to him/her...

    Yes, that is a perfect example. Like how Atlas Shrugged was so much about the world and the vision it was trying to portray, it forgot the more basic elements.

    Presenting a theme is not what you want to do. Just having it on the background is more than enough, as readers will catch on if it's something worth thinking about. I see what you mean now.

    I was so focused on wanting to create something as awesome. To write something that could give others the same feeling of wonder and excitement as I realize the parallels between fiction and reality. So I kind of lost sight of the real purpose of writing: to entertain. To invoke the more simple feelings of joy, sadness, fear and love, not the complicated mental processes.

    But entertainment can be something more. It can actually enrich the lives of the readers, even after the story has ended. It can make you think about the world in ways you never have and be a good time. It does not need to be just one or the other.

    I thought that being thought provoking was what made great books great, but that is not the only reason.

    I need to reflect upon this some more... I wonder how it took me this long to realize it... or when did I go wrong.

    And for the record, I'm really glad I registered :3
     

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