1. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Themes

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rebel Yellow, Jun 1, 2013.

    How much thought is given to themes in your novels? Do you plan it out before the first draft, or do you save them for future rewrites?
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    In my first and ever novel, I wrote for the story and nothing else. Once the second draft came around, however, I began to realise why I wanted to tell that particular story, and so a theme developed. In my second novel, a theme ran through it from the get-go, so I presume adding themes (and when to add them) takes both experience, and of course, depends on the type of book you are writing.

    Hope I helped. :)
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Themes leak into novels because the novels reflect the author's beliefs.

    Writing designed around a theme more often than not comes across as preachy. Themes are best left to discovery rather than intent.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no thought at all...

    see what cog has to say about it... he's right...
     
  5. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    What exactly is this thread about?
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I like to think that I have an idea of what I'm trying to say with a story when I start writing it. I don't mind being preached at just a bit. Some things need a good preaching. Delany's Stars in my Pocket... showed me that I am a default misogynist, that my cultural training from the day I left the womb is geared to make me think less of women and all things having to do with them, that misogyny is woven into the very fabric of the languages I speak down to the pronoun and article. I think that's an important thing to talk about.
     
  7. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Yeah, I guess that trying to engineer themes defeats the point. Thanks for the replies.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Depends on what people mean by "theme".

    When I think of 'theme' I think of the bolded example in the above definition. And as such, it's the key that makes one's story more than just an accounting of events.

    So I'm not interpreting the OP question the same way as Cog and Maia.

    I need a clarification of the OP.
     
  9. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hence my question - what exactly is this thread about?
     
  10. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Oh sorry I didn't get your question.

    What I meant by theme is for example: death, everlasting love, faith vs doubt, coming of age and so on.

    I know they are an intricate part of the plot, but sometimes writers will add symbolism to support their themes.
     
  11. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    You mean where the author has wedged in a moral to the story?
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    The Creative Penn has an interview with the author of, "Wired for Story", a book that I found said exactly why 'theme', as I think you are using the term, is so critical to a story.
    I don't think this is what Cog and Maia are talking about when they say not to ruin your story with a theme. It's not a moral or cliché, but it is a thread of meaning that your story is about.

    I started with this and built my story around it. My protag's faults, strengths, wants and needs grew as the story progressed so I can't say it was rigidly planned from the beginning. My story thread was planned, but it's growing and changing as I write it.
     
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  13. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    No I don't. Mostly I meant symbolism.


    That was pretty helpful! Thanks.
     
  14. Nee
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    Character motivation and theme drive the plot foreword. If you are using the story to get out what you as the author what to say to society, then it will be viewed as preachy. How could it not? However, if you recognize that the interplay between the character's wants and desires, the situation at hand, and the pull of other forces within the story's world: societal, economic, religious, technological, or personal (character's beliefs) then there are numerous opportunities to infuse theme(s) into the cause and effect cascade that ultimately brings the story to its eventual conclusion. (And a quite satisfying one for the reader at that).
     
  15. sanco
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    Following up on what Nee has said, I've been through many script consults and have had varying views on theme. My basic understanding of theme is it's what your story is about. What it all means under the symbols of events, actions and relationships.

    Personally, I think it's more fruitful and thought-provoking if you presented your theme as a question, or a question could be derived from the thematic thread of your story. If the theme was relayed as a statement, it would sound way too preachy.

    A few examples of "central thematic questions" (and these are just my own interpretations, there are no right answers):
    "Magnolia" - How does our relationship with our fathers affect the way we interact with people?
    "Animal Kingdom" - What do you do when the only people you can trust are criminals?
    "Witness" - In a world full of violence, how does one be at peace with themselves?

    Something of that nature. Based on personal experience, I think it's easier for me to just write a story, characters and all and NOT think about theme at all. At least for the first draft. And then analyse what you've written and try to understand why you've written it. It's kind of like interpreting dreams really. It's subconsciously inside you. But it's crucial that you do identify what it means IMO.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm sure you meant well, ginger, but please don't presume to know what i mean... you can't possibly know how i interpreted the question and i don't see how you could logically ascribe all to me that you've presented here... neither cog nor i said 'not to ruin your story with a theme'... nor that a theme is 'a moral or cliche' as you can see below...

     
  17. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    So I guess the bottom line is that I shouldn't try to push my beliefs into the reader.
     
  18. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    The bottom line for me would be: have a general idea of the topics you're exploring but don't give it too much thought until you've pumped out a first draft.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    What else does a writer do when s/he he writes? Anyone selling you that as a command is flat out wrong. There are fantastic books that do have very purposeful themes explored by the author.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    I wasn't trying to presume anything. I was trying not to sound offensive.

    The reference to "moral" and "cliché" was in reference to Rebel's list: "death, everlasting love, faith vs doubt, coming of age and so on", not to anything anyone else posted. The list doesn't have any of the complexity that I would chose for good story.

    To me saying, "Writing designed around a theme more often than not comes across as preachy. Themes are best left to discovery rather than intent," says "not to ruin your story with a theme".

    If you wish to discuss that "not to ruin your story with a theme" was not what you were saying, feel free.

    The way I see it, you should always have that theme in mind (thus I still think we are defining "theme" differently). Everything that takes the story forward does so because it relates to that theme. That doesn't mean you spell your theme out with blatant hammer blows.

    What it means is you don't just throw in an action scene that reads well but has nothing to do with the story except to show how cool your protag is.
     
  21. GingerCoffee
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    That makes no sense to me. What are you pumping out a draft of?

    It could be that this stuff comes very naturally for some people and too much planning leads to the writer getting hung up on something that doesn't fit perfectly in. I think you could write a story like Twilight that way. You could hit the reader jackpot without trying because a lot of people eat up the one true love theme as long as it's a little fresh and not too poorly written.

    That's not what I want to write. I have deeper themes in my story, generational conflict, conflicts of belief, class divides and a protag who struggles with high self esteem because she likes herself and low self esteem when faced with other people who don't like her.

    And I'm weaving a tale of two cities (not related to the namesake) with parallels between the two. The things I write about the characters have parallels to the things I write about the society as a whole. For example, the generational conflict between father and son has a political parallel of a society undergoing change along with the generational change in the demographics. Individuals with different beliefs have parallels to larger groups in the society with different beliefs.

    It's very complex and requires a lot of planning. So perhaps the bottom line here is, it depends on what one is writing and what one's writing style is.
     
  22. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    Most of my Themes come to me before i begin writing. Some will slowly come to me as i come up with connections to real life and abstract development. I write in a weird function compared to ordinary writers.
     
  23. Nee
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    Explore...absolutely. shove down the readers throat, not such a good idea. Take one of the most preachy books you can think of, the Bible, and its central theme, "Am I My Brother's Keeper." There in the in the end the theme is not shoved down ones throat but offered as a reasonable way of understanding the situation we find ourselves in that offers the best chance for a peaceful existence within a dualistic universe. "Do un to other as you would have them do un to you." "Love your brother as you love yourself." and "Turn the other cheek." all presented as examples of goodly behavior that multiplies back on itself many times over whenever applied to life's situations.
     
  24. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    When it comes to themes when I write, I've written and discovered themes, and I've tried to write around a theme. I say I've tried to write because focusing on that theme drew away from my writing a bit. I will attribute most of that to my inexperience as a writer. I can also say that when I have an idea that motivates the story, I feel that letting the story unfold and develop in the first draft made discovering more themes and symbols to either play up or play down in rewrites. When it comes to the theme of a story, I feel like the writer is allowed to discover it while they write just as a reader discovers it while they read. Once you realize the them and have a draft, you then have a story and characters to build on and can weave thematic moments in more subtly than you could by writing every scene to blatantly play off one scene.

    Now if you know the theme of the story you want to write before your first draft, I still say craft the story with minimal thought to theme because it becomes a distraction. Definitely keep it in mind when creating your story, but let it rest while writing.
     
  25. Nee
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    Well, by all means, please explain precisely how it is that an extraordinary writer handles theme.

    :D
     

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