Sunday, September 04, 2011

Theme is the weekend's theme

Why is only my right hand cold? I need a heated mouse.

Somebody get on that.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen this picture:

Saturday night note-taking extravaganza!

And now the context.

So people aren't kidding when they say you have to write in order to learn how to write. And I swear, I've been listening to feedback and trying to look for patterns in my...let's call them flaws...and not taking anything too personally. But there's one comment I've heard a few times now and I decided I need to address it.

The writing's nice and all, but what's the point?

Oh. The point? Well. Hm. You mean it can't just be to entertain you? Whoops.

You ever think you have a grasp on something until you try to explain it? Eight months ago I asked myself: what's a story? And I got stuck. I read a lot, I watched a lot of Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth," and I thought I had an idea. So I started to write.

(The shorthand definition for story I settled on, by the way: Words in a specific order meant to elicit a response.)

Last night I asked myself: what's a theme? Why's it important? Because "theme" seems to be the answer to "what's the point?"

So I gathered a bunch of how-to write books, camped out in the living room, and took notes. (See picture) At the end of the night I decided, at least until I find out differently, I consider theme to be this: a coded message the author wants to convey about an attitude or opinion on an abstract subject, shown through the characters's reactions to events in the story.

Or as I wrote elsewhere: Theme is the weird filament that gave Pinocchio life.

I think I've stumbled into themes before in my stories, just by virtue of the fact I'm an opinionated person, and it didn't hurt that readers are always trying to glean meaning even when it's not there. It's what we're programmed to do -- we fill in gaps. Just look at any optical illusion as an example.

I feel like I might have understood this once at an intuitive level and then I inspected the thought too closely and it fell apart, so now I have to do the hard work and learn it for keeps.

One thing's for sure: theme makes me rambly.

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