1. Michael Shaw
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    Michael Shaw Member

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    Did your theme develop your plot, or vice versa?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Michael Shaw, Jun 27, 2013.

    Hey everyone,

    As this is the "plot" section of the forum, one thread we have all read (or at least should have noticed) is the sticky thread at the top, that discusses plot development as well as the difference between plot and theme.

    So, here's a question I have based on your personal experience. In stories you've written in the past, did you start with a theme, and then come up with a story? For example, did you say to yourself, "I want to write about responsibility," and then proceed to think of a story that would teach responsibility? OR, did you think of a story and its plot before thinking of a theme for it to communicate?

    Personally, when I've thought of stories in the past, I have usually thought of an interesting plot and then a theme would spawn out of it.

    What about you? Theme before plot or plot before theme?

    All the best,
    Michael
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I usually have a theme first. And for me themes come in the forum of a question. I was just given one the other day in a discussion had right here in the forum.

    What happens when the kind of citizenship a person has is something they can change, modify, and tailor depending on allegiances that aren't governmental, but instead economic.

    It's not the core theme of my story, but it gives a good bit of explanation and depth to a particular character and how he relates to the world he lives in. I'm not one to conjure up a character and make friends with him or her and then try and find a story for them.
     
  3. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    They each build into each other. I start with crumbs of an idea, and then imagine it out until it becomes solid.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Theme is more of a philosophy or world view that runs through a story. For Star Trek, the running theme was an optimistic future where equality and peace dominate.

    The concept is more likely to be couched as a question: What happens when a brilliant doctor tests his theory, in secret, of a means of creating life in dead flesh? Would a man so animated have a conscience? A soul? (Frankenstein)

    The storyline seeks to answer the question posed by the concept, through a network of plots. Each plot consists of an actor (character), a goal or objective, a motivation, and an opposition.

    Theme is more often than not a reflection of the author, and may or may not be a conscious intent on the part of the author.
     
  5. Ann-Russell
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    Ann-Russell Member

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    Themes often develop in my work without me being aware.

    I never start a story with a specific theme in mind. Rather, I aim to tell a good story and then discover the themes later (some even pointed out by other people that I had no idea came across). This works best for me. I find the more I focus on a theme the more flowery my writing becomes and it takes away from the story.
     
  6. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    The themes just kinda happen when I'm writing. They're not contrived or really thought much about they just are there. It's part of my voice and my worldview that bleeds into the story as I write. Or at least that's how I've come to think of it. The concept and storyline kinda happen simultaneously as I'm writing. They both feed off each other. The concept in my present work is when you're given knowledge and the ability to affect changes for the greater good will you do it? The theme is overcoming grief, loss, and anger to make something better of yourself.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I started with theme and a story idea that I then wove together. My book is intended to evoke strong social commentary.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Theme is very important to me. There are certain things that concern me a great deal, and I’ve always wanted to express my viewpoint on them in fiction. When I was starting out as a writer, I used to try to move from the abstraction of theme to the concreteness of story (character and plot). I found this extremely difficult, and the results, frankly, sucked.

    I gave up out of frustration for a while. Eventually, though, I realized that whatever is really important to me will emerge in my fiction without any conscious effort on my part. That’s pretty liberating. I start with a character in a situation, and watch him deal with the situation as I write. By partway through the first draft, usually, I become aware of what the theme is, and I strengthen and magnify the theme in subsequent drafts.

    Not knowing the theme going in is actually a good thing, I think. If I knew what the theme was, I think the work would become far too didactic and unbelievable. If I discover the theme as I work, I find myself exploring it, trying to use my story to figure out what I believe. If I can convince myself of something through my fiction, maybe I can convince a reader, too. At the very least, I’ll learn something about myself, and, with any luck, about the rest of the world, too.

    :)
     
  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Our method is just about the opposite. When I and KaTrian start on a new story, the first question we ask ourselves is "what do we want to say?" Kinda like the saying "if you don't have anything to say, it's better not to say anything at all." So we usually start with a theme (a couple of times we've started out with characters that we've found inspiring / interesting and good mediums for things we want to say). It could be anything: philosophical, political, social commentary, something personal, something important / insignificant, but it has to be there.
    A big theme in several of our stories has been the individual and their relationship with society, so a lot of our themes have social and political undertones, but more personal issues (like love, addiction, depression, courage etc) are common themes as well.

    Once we've settled on what we want to say with the piece, we start to build the characters, the world etc. accordingly. For instance, what kind of a character would be the best medium to get our point across?
    As for the plot... as long as we have something to say, the plot usually reveals itself to us sooner or later. Often we don't need to think of a plot; what we want to say usually gives us a skeleton of one so after that we just start to flesh it out until we have a good, solid, interesting plot. Sometimes the plot is straightforward, sometimes more complex, it all depends on the themes.
     
  10. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    I started writing without a plot. For fun I started a round-robin fan fiction with a friend and we agreed we wouldn't discuss the plot and see where we would end up. It was nothing serious but when the whole story started to become interesting, we decided to finish the fan fiction and start rewriting it into an original story. We have almost finished the fan faction and we are slowly starting to work on the rewrite (re-plotting things, research etc) so it is a kind of unconventional way to start a story.
     
  11. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I do both. Sometimes themes just struck me and I just knew I have to write a story base on that theme. In this approach I usually find that I have to work a lot harder (read: edit, edit, edit...) to make the story (plot, characterization) flows well. In other words when developing plots and characters tied around a set theme I struggle to convey the theme itself in a subtle manner while keeping the story simple and good. I usually get it there, but as I said, it's a lot harder.

    This is not so in those cases when I have chars and plots and sort of vomit the story out of my system. I discover the theme(s) halfway through the first draft or after the first draft and I strengthen them in later drafts. Sometimes I don't even need to do anything to strengthen the theme, it has already sat itself pretty well when the char experience that inciting incident, when the char reacted the way it did, when the char changed, and when the story is finally resolved. Usually, those themes are the ones I am very passionate about.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I've written stories that I've started with a particular theme in mind and then consciously built a plot that would support that theme. I've also started with a couple of characters in mind and a dilemma that they faced and worked forward to the story from there; the theme evolved with the story.

    In my current project, I started with a goal - a historical novel about a particular place. After reading volumes and volumes on the place, I got the idea for the two characters who would not only coax out the historical, but also form a modern day subplot (which spawned a second one, completely unexpected by me when I started). As the early historical chapters have emerged, so has a theme, and it has applicability to the modern subplots.

    There is no one right way to do this. But it definitely helps to understand the pieces that all need to be in place to have a quality work, and to be able to spot where you might have fallen short.

    Oh, and in one novel, I started with a theme, conceived the characters, but when I wrote the story, the theme was entirely different than what I had originally conceived.
     
  13. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I always have a specific theme in mind for a story and then I write the story.
     
  14. The Peanut Monster
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    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

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    I was told not to let the theme drive too much, lest it come across as too "preachy". That said, I'm guilty of this I think, and I'm certainly letting the themes inform my plot quite substantially. Some of it is me exploring these ideas myself (an example might be the theme of "respect for authority"), but others I have a fixed idea for the message I ultimately want to convey. It does tend to restrict some of the creatie juices though, and I've found that branching out and trying to write things I disagree with theme-wise has been quite enjoyable...
     

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