Exploring Theme

I’m a huge fan of theme when it comes to writing.  Why?  Because it connects us all.  Theme connects the writer to his audience; whether they the feel it or not; whether they agree with the writer’s point-of-view or not.  Theme exists.

So what is it and how can you use it?

Below is a quick breakdown.  I wrote this a while ago and only recently rediscovered it.  I’ve read countless books on writing so I doubt any of my thoughts are groundbreaking.  My skill has always been at whittling away the fat to find the most basic and necessary parts.  So here it is; my bare bones thoughts on theme.

What is theme?

An argument

between the protagonist and the antagonist

The story takes the form of your opinion in the argument

Thus creating your voice

How to find theme

What is the end of your protagonist’s arc?

So in the beginning, your character is the opposite of that.  Creating your character arc.

Your character arc reflects your theme.

*I personally believe this helps find holes.  If your character arc and your theme are out of sync you can change your arc to suit the theme you wanted.  Or vice versa.  They are so closely connected they help hammer each other out.

How to use theme

Your protagonist will argue for the wrong thing until they learn.

Unless they don’t arc.

In which case they argue for the right thing while everyone else around them learns.  (e.g. Forrest Gump)

People like when theme is stated up front so they know the direction they’re going in.  The sooner the better.

It could be as easy as someone saying (what the protagonist needs to learn) up front.  Of course they don’t want to hear it here.  Reinforcing their flaw and the need for change.

Another way would be to show theme instead of stating it.  I mean it’s show not tell, right?  So find a way to physically illustrate your theme.  This is harder but less obvious and more satisfying.

How to explore theme

Know your opinion

Look at the opposite of your opinion

Look at all possible mixes of the two

Look at the opposite of all possible mixes

Argue all sides convincingly.  As the writer you get the last word anyway

You can apply variations through your side characters to contrast your opinion

Not sure how you feel about theme?  The good/bad news is it is present in everything you write anyway.  Every writer has something to say.  If they didn’t they wouldn’t touch a keyboard.  Even if you know nothing about theme or character arcs, or resist them both, a theme is still going to come out.  It may not be the one you want but it will be present.

What’s that?  You don’t have an arc?  People don’t change?  That’s a theme.

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