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  1. #1
    Wirt's Fourth Leg Cirias's Avatar
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    Theme Comes First

    I don't know if this will be useful for anyone out there, but its something I was reminded of today. I've had many failed projects over the years. In fact, I've probably left a smouldering trail long enough to light up the passage from Europe to America by now. But, getting to my point, the reason I believe I've had such a high rate of abandoned stories is down to the fact I rarely ever start my planning with a solid theme. Laugh if you like. It's a basic element of novel planning, yet so many online tutorials and guides seem to miss out this crucial step entirely.

    For my latest WIP, I made sure I started with a rock solid theme. The theme is so important to start from because it drives the story and keeps everything pointing in the same direction. Time and time again I'd start with a random idea or plot (i.e. assassin seeks revenge, war between two nations, magical superweapon is constructed). None of those were my actual ideas, I'd like to say.

    If you start with a theme such as 'greed' or 'revenge', or maybe two central themes, you get a better sense of the overall feel of the story. Then come up with a couple of minor/sub-themes which will also crop up (i.e. humanity's struggle to understand its own purpose). Now you know that everything you write within the framework of those themes, should be connected to/driven by one/all of those themes. I will say that these themes should all be connected somehow, definitely to the main theme.

    Joe Abercrombie demonstrates this technique wonderfully in Best Served Cold. The theme is revenge, clear and simple. The characters are constantly driven by that theme, both for the purpose of the main plot and sub-plots. He pulls it off so well that as you read further along, every single character (major and minor) seems to be tangled up in a mess of personal vendetta and vengeance. It makes the story so much stronger as a result. If he'd gone in with no core theme, only knowing that his main character wanted revenge, the overall feel of the story and world would have been lost and it wouldn't have pulled in the reader so well as it did for me.

    Phew... I've written much more than I was planning to! What do you guys think about theme and its importance?

  2. #2
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    This is helpful! I read this about an hour ago but hadn't been able to reply until now.

    I've become stuck with my current wip and, after reading this, I think some of that has to do with losing track of the themes each of my characters is pursuing. I'm not sure it will get me going again but it may lead to a solution! Especially since I've already identified and made a list of my main characters' themes as well as the stories overall theme. Thanks Cirias for helping me get back on track!

  3. #3
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cirias View Post
    What do you guys think about theme and its importance?
    I haven't constructed my WIP around theme or even really thought about it. At this point, it's unimportant to me.

  4. #4
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Although theme was definitely on my mind while writing some stories, more often than not I have no idea what the theme(s) will be until well into the draft. Sometimes it doesn't emerge until the revision stage.

  5. #5
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    I am thinking I should clarify my earlier post. Despite the OP stating the importance of overall story/plot theme, I was thinking more in terms of individual characters and that is where I found help from this.

    However, I have to agree with Cirias that, when writing a theme-centered story, it is the theme that is all important. My wip is a Halloween themed story with subsequent ideas diverging from the story I tell in this one. Further, my wip began as an 18k word novella written two years ago which I am now trying to expand to a full novel. That is how I can see the themes as I do now. Occasionally, I need reminders of them, such as has now been given to me.

    But this is also the first story I have told with such a theme. For most of the stories I write I find myself in Hippokrene's camp and find theme to be rather unimportant. Perhaps this stems from my thinking of "theme" as "moral of the story" and stories with a specific moral are not as interesting to me. Morals, while not bad, are teaching tools and I see them as often most appropriate with children.

  6. #6
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Hi Cirias-- I agree that it helps to have a theme in mind, and exactly for the reasons you mentioned. It colors your characters and gives them motive. On the other hand, I've found that once the characters are set free, they get ideas of their own. I'm well advised to keep an open mind, and to make changes in the theme if necessary.

    Becoming too theme oriented runs the risk of becoming didactic. Have fun, and keep up the great blog.

    --WB

  7. #7
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Um, I hate to be the one to say this, but, well, isn't that, well, like Writing 101?

    All my writing classes stressed the importance of theme (in terms of having some idea of it at the beginning). I couldn't start anything without that in mind.

    Am I missing something?

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