1. Slappydappy
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    Slappydappy Member

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    Where do stories really come from and how do you choose your themes?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Slappydappy, Jan 13, 2012.

    So it seems I have alot of ideas, but I realize now that ideas are not stories. Even characters and plots do not create a story. It seems that the concept of a story is centered on a theme. From the theme comes a premise. From the premise comes everything else. I always saw it something like this:

    Theme: Man must rely on his inner spirituality to guide him (Man vs. Machine)
    Premise: A group of rebels fight against an Intergalactic Empire that is building a weapon that can destroy planets. A local farmboy struggles to learn his powers as he is tempted and put through trials by his polar opposite, a powerful, half-man half-machine Antagonist.
    Movie: Star Wars

    As far as Star Wars, I could be wrong on my interpretation. It was all I could think of at the moment. It could be Nature vs. Machine as well. Depends on how you look at it. But George Lucas was obviously trying to say something. Something simple. In fact, it seems like he uses Obi-Wan to convey his message (I forgot what this type of character this is called, besides being a mentor).

    At the end the theme is made more clear when Obi-wan's voice tells Luke to "Let go" and use the Force. Luke switches off his targeter (Machine) and trusts in the Force (Spirituality). By releasing his reliance on the artificial forms, trusts in himself, and pulls the trigger.

    So when I look at my own stories, I get confused. I can come up with a million different battles, characters, plots, etc. But when I can't even touch my own theme, even barely, I feel like I'm doing it wrong. I wonder how I even got this far without a real theme.

    What we are trying to say, is it something out of our own life experiences? Is it some kind of message I've had in my heart my whole life? How do you pick what you want to say? Did an experience trigger it? Or is it just based on observations you've made through your whole life?

    To me the message should be powerful and something I truly believe in. I see it sometimes in my writing, and sometimes I can't see it at all. And that is depressing.

    Are there exercises you do concerning this? Like writing down all the things you want to say? All of your strongly held beliefs? Then do you build an entire story off a theme? Or do you work backwards from a story into a theme? I’d love to hear from others.
     
  2. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    I think you're over thinking it too much. A story will have a theme whether consciously chosen or not - theme is usually the thing we realise afterwards, when you've written the story and you go 'wow, there's lots of stuff in there about my hero conquering his inner demons/overcoming prejudice/struggling against nature/technology, etc' THEN you can congratulate yourself for identifying the theme. But you don't NEED to identify the theme in order to write it. In fact if you do, it often comes off as self conscious, contrived or pretentious.

    Yeah. The last thing you said.

    I come up with my stories based on various things - a cool character I've come up with a who needs a sandpit to play in, a 'what if' scenario I'd like to explore, a wish fulfilment daydream I play out when I'm bored - all these things have become stories. But never once in all my life have I sat there and said to myself 'ok, today I'm going to write a 'man versus nature' story.

    Just write it. Worry about what your grand narrative is later.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Kallithrix. You have to trust yourself. You have deep concerns, deep thoughts and feelings, and they will come out in your themes whether you're forcing them or not. Don't try to write from theme down, so to speak. Write from character and story. Then, read over what you've written, and you'll find something in there, something that's important to you, a theme. In your revision, you might want to strengthen the theme through any number of techniques - symbolism, change of metaphor, maybe even having a character articulate the theme in words, though that can be pretty heavy-handed.

    But you can't keep theme out of your stories. Just write your stories, and it will show up, and if you've written honestly, you might find out something about yourself you weren't consciously aware of before. And that might come out in your theme. Strengthen that, and you'll not only be a writer, you'll be a philosopher.

    Good luck!
     
  4. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    My stories come from a land of eternal bliss to which I enter by inhaling a small amount of magic pixie essence. Upon arriving to this magical realm, theme ideas do battle against one another in unarmed, hand to hand combat to the death. One a winner is crowned, the lucky chosen theme departs with me back to the land from whence I came.

    ...

    Perhaps I've said too much.
     
  5. Granville
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    Granville Member

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    All of my work begins with something I see either in myself, in others or in society in general, and feel strongly about in a way that can be developed into a theme. I don't have the theme yet, just the beginning concept. More often than not though, I've found that after making a rough outline of the concept involved, the whole thing starts to evolve once I begin to research things. The project I'm on now started with a wizard who hates magic. That has entirely changed and the same character is now a philosopher who hates wizards! The same concept is represented, but in a more interesting and entertaining plot that includes a bunch of new elements I picked up in research.
     
  6. forgotmypen
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    forgotmypen Member

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    Hi,

    Interesting question. I don't know if this helps, but if you have passion for your story (and your characters) the theme will come on its own. Often times, a good plot carries its own theme. You may not even realize it.

    Writers sometimes over-obsess about themes and hidden meanings. My advice is: don't. Simply revel in your idea and start writing. Believe it or not, writing is the most important part. The story, theme or no theme, will never come to life without a pen on paper. : )
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    from everything and anything the teller/writer knows/sees/hears/feels/imagines/experiences...
     
  8. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    The ideas come from my head.

    They usually start with an image of a couple of characters and expand through "what if" questions.

    I've never sat down and said, "I think I'll write a story with a theme of the struggle for upward social mobility in America." I imagine the characters and I ask "what if" and I write the story and the theme emerges naturally. Sometimes the theme is an important one -- sometimes it's philosophical, too -- and it can be something I learn from.

    I don't ask myself what my strongly held beliefs are in order to write the story. The story may make me think about or reconsider my beliefs as I write it, and may even make the reader consider his own beliefs, but I don't like to use my story as a medium for promoting these beliefs.
     

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