1. Chris16
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    Chris16 New Member

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    Plot and Theme. Which do you make first?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Chris16, Feb 20, 2011.

    It's entirely possible that my question reveals a flaw in my thinking (I hope it does, because I've been blocked for awhile), but how do you answer it?

    Coming up with plot ideas is fun and easy, but a theme and insightful things to say about it aren't as easily accomplished, at least for me. Do I think of plot and then apply a theme? I thought of this, but it seems impractical because you figure the plot would arise from the theme or issue your story is about. If that's the case, how do you decide on a theme? How do you guys go about creating or thinking of interesting topics to explore?
     
  2. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    I had an overall theme before I had all the plots worked out for my current novel. But there are smaller themes and plots that blend into the story, and not all of them were planned in advance. So, it's kind of mixed, I suppose.
     
  3. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    My theme ideas are related to issues I find important or care about in some way. Alternatively, they can just arise out of the main concern/issue/conflict that a particular character deals with.

    In my opinion, whether you should start with plot or theme depends on what you want to do with the story thematically. If you want a sustained theme throughout, it won't likely work well to apply it to a plot that's already constructed (unless there's something that arises naturally out of the plot you've chosen) since most of the major events and conflicts would need to deal with your chosen theme.

    If you're writing something like an adventure story where you want to focus on plot, you might want to plot first and then let a variety of smaller themes creep into the story based on what your characters are doing.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I've worked both ways with about the same degree of success. It really depends on what you're trying to do, how you want to write, things like that.
     
  5. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Usually, I develop a plot first, a real "wouldn't this be cool if this happened" story arc. I do not develop the theme until I begin writing the first paragraph, and just to get myself writing on a new project, I'll usually create the theme in this first paragraph. I do this for both fiction and nonfiction. This method almost always changes my plot in some way or another, but I just adapt as I go along. In the end, it works out just fine.
     
  6. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I develop the plot and characters. I don't even think about the theme and instead just focus on the "fun stuff". The theme tends to come naturally and inserts itself in as I go along.
     
  7. muscle979
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    muscle979 Member

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    Make a good story and the theme will take care of itself. I don't think I would ever bother with a theme first.
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I usually figure out a big-picture theme (something really general, like "freedom is more important than security" or "don't blindly conform", but I don't read too much into it or try to make it too deep) at the same time as working out my plot, because that's how I determine things like the main conflict, the antag etc.

    Smaller themes usually happen without you realizing, and you notice when you read your novel a second time after leaving it alone for a while. Same with symbolism. You can't really force it or else it will seem too obvious and unnatural.
     
  9. Chris16
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    Chris16 New Member

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    Thank you so much for the replies. :D

    Most of you are saying what I wanted to hear. Racking my brain for a theme is not the most fun part of writing, but I feel like it's necessary for some reason. Maybe it would be better to let it come naturally from the plot and characters.

    The only problem I find with thinking of the theme first is the fear that it will be seen as trite if it's not a wholly original thought or observation about life. Then I get blocked trying to make one. How complex do you guys try to make your themes, or how complex are they once they have appeared? Do you focus on being insightful? Do you pick something established and be original in how you express it? To what extent do you think it has to reflect current society, if at all?
     
  10. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Almost any type of story you can think of will have a message like fighting for liberty, keeping an evil villain (like Voldemort or Sauron) from prevailing, being a loyal friend, being who you are and not a copy, etc...seriously the only way you'll seem like a ripoff is if the characters/events/situations/places/etc in your story are ripoffs from another story.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm suspicious of any work that _consciously_ rises from theme rather than plot and character. The things that you strongly believe in are going to come out in your work whether you like it or not, but I think that they'll come out in a more subtle, complex, and realistic way if you sit down to tell a story, rather than to teach a lesson.
     
  12. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I usually pick a strong emotional cord i want to vibrant trough the book. And that quite close to theme. From that, my plot evolves.
     
  13. litchickuk
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    litchickuk Member

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    I usually plot and characters are what usually are the focus because I dont think you can get writing until you have at least a basic plot line to work with. Themes I dont usually think about but emerge on their own from what i've written. Although, the story I am planning at the moment has already had themes laid out, very unusual for me. I think it depends on what you are writing about and what you want it to be/say as to whether you consciously think about themes or not. I think alot of thematic focus is done subconsciously anyway.
     
  14. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I have a big project I am working on right now, where I have the plot fully laid out, but no theme. :rolleyes:

    I don't care. I am starting to get some ideas what the theme will be in the end, but right now, for me, describing and writing the story is more important than trying to think of some excuse why people should read it. :D
     
  15. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    My advice, concentrate on your plot and characters and other aspects of writing a story, and let the theme emerge. If you want to strengthen your theme work on it while re-drafting. If you are too conscious about the theme while writing your story (specially in the first draft) it'll become too obvious. Sometimes I know the theme even before I start plotting, but I choose to ignore it and concentrate on plotting until I complete my first draft. Treat theme as something abstract which the readers should feel after reading your story, and not something to be written down in words in your story.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely plot first, I don't even consider a theme to be honest usually find the book has one but its not in the back of my mind when I am writing - my main goal is a good story.
     
  17. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree. I don't want to just build a story around a theme itself.
     
  18. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with that. I think the two go hand in hand.
     
  19. tiggertaebo
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    tiggertaebo Member

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    Typically I begin with the main characters then the basics of the plot come from me thinking of something that would be interesting to watch them do. As ther plot develops it then further fleshes out the characters ("how would X respond to this turn of events?" etc). Its only when I feel like I've got a consistent enough set of responses that I feel like I can give them a theme. So far the only exception I've had to this is an idea that came to me last year that was pretty much just a theme and I've fleshed out some characters to act that out with.

    I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do it, I think it all depends on how your own mind works.
     
  20. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never really think about themes, but I suppose they are still there. I think it's impossible to write a story without a theme showing up somehow, big or small. But I always think themes should be vague, and only noticable if you're looking for it, though that's probably because I absolutely hate stories that try to teach me things, even when I was little. One of my stories have a "save the planet" theme, and I hate it. I'm desperatly trying to make it more subtle, but it's hard without ruining the story.
     
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  21. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    As an old man once said:

    From one good plot shall many themes arise uninvited. FFrom one good theme all you have is the ending of the plot.
     
  22. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    Most of your plot ideas, if you examine them closely, will have a theme at their roots. By exploring the plot, and creating 3-dimensional characters, you will be exploring the theme also.
     
  23. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    ChickenFreak brings up an excellent point. If you focus too hard on theme, it's going to seem forced. There is such a thing as overkill, and no one likes it. Focus on storyline, characters, tone and emotion. Themes will manifest themselves.

    Keep in mind that themes, like symbolism, are best when not mentioned and left for the reader to pick up. Otherwise the story will seem preachy like you're forcing the theme down their throat in a blatant manner.
     
  24. Paris_Love
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    Paris_Love Member

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    I develop a premise first, then I work on plotting and characters simultaneously. Then I weave the theme into my stories. Starting with theme may work fine, but my plotting and characters don't develop as organically if I'm trying to stick to a theme.
     

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