Saturday, March 02, 2013

Reflections: What is theme?

Hi, folks, I will spend the month of March reflecting about theme. I'm going to pick apart some things I know about it. I carry around a theme toolbox and  will talk about  my theme tools and how and when to use them. At the end of the day the topic of theme would take an entire book to unpack, and I can give you teacup worth of understanding. Hopefully, I will pour out some useful advice.

First up, I'm going to dig into what I think theme is. It's illusive and about the half of the very talented authors I know to refuse to think about it when they write. To quip Bob Dylan in his song "Gates of Eden":

At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means

Some of my author friends feel that theme needs to be tossed into the background and grow organically out of the story. They don't try to shovel into the ditch of what they mean. This is a valid way to go.  Many authors have no idea what their theme is while writing. There is some element of theme that is very subconscious. Never forget that.

There are some misconceptions about theme out there. Here is what is not: a message, a moral or a thesis.  I run across authors occasionally who use storytelling as a platform for their messages or moralizing or pontificating. Uh, no. These folks usually think their preachy-teachy mess is theme. Uh, no. Please trust your readers to think for themselves. Write sermons, parables, or non-fiction if your grandiose ideas must be spoon-fed. Move away from the fiction. Far away. 

So here is the teacup of what I know (finally). At the end of the day theme is a complex idea. For me, it is a universal view about life and how people behave that is revealed through an an author refining characters' actions in a specific window in space and time. (I know clear as mud, but at least worth thinking about.) Theme is indirectly presented in stories. Theme invites the reader to draw his own conclusions. Theme doesn't tell the reader what to think but it does require the reader to think.  Ethos, pathos and logos -- theme turns up this stew of conviction, emotion, and understanding. It's the glue that elevates a story.

I hope that this glue permeates your books. I hope that you find the divine in all  your creative endeavors. I will be back next week with more on theme.

Now the doodle: "Yellow Blobby."

Here is a quote for your pocket.

If there were only one truth, you couldn't paint a hundred canvases on the same theme. Pablo Picasso


Unknown said...

For me, themes are revealed organically. They just sort of evolve as the story unfolds. If I try to force one, I get stuck, which is sort of where I am now on a story. At the moment, I'm trying to un-stick my stuck brain. LOL.

Btw, your Yellow Blobby needs to be a permanent image on your blog! He's perfect and blends well with your background. ;)

Molly/Cece said...

Yes, you are on Team Organic!
I'm mostly on team organic but I have learned a few things to keep in mind that do help sharpen my theme even if I don't exactly know what my theme is...