Thursday, August 03, 2006

It's a Theme Thang

What a very odd week. My mom had dental surgery on Monday, and has been having some trouble since--she hasn't been up to taking Child back during the days. So hubby and I are taking sick days, splitting days (he works half and I work half), going in early to make up time...I got here before 7 this morning, and will leave around 11:30. Half a day catching everything up and half playing Angelina Ballerina. {shaking head} (BTW--I stopped by the donut shop on my way into work this morning and it was CLOSED. What's up with that? Aren't donut shops supposed to open at 5 or something?)

This morning I would really, really like to just go sit down somewhere quiet and finish reading Harry Potter. I got to a Big Scene last night where something horrible supposedly happened, and I would like to Know More (look at all those capitals, Vic). This is what good fiction does for you. It sucks you in and interferes with the rest of your life, twitching into your thoughts at random moments, making you daydream about exactly what will happen next.

The reason I started reading the Harry Potter books, though, wasn't really because I knew they'd be good, but because the first one was a perfect example of My Favorite Theme.

What? Y'all don't have a favorite theme? Sure you do. If you aren't aware of it already, you just have to find it. Mine is pretty clear, has been since childhood, and fortunately is very well represented in fiction and film:

Individual (often child or teen) finds out that they are not the normal, everday person they had been raised to believe. Oh, no. They are magical/royal/the chosen one/fated to face great challenge and overcome obstacles and change the world. Yeah, that one.

This theme comes up over and over, in everything from King Arthur to Harry to The Dark is Rising to the Princess Diaries. I suspect it's universal, and has been around since stories have. Doesn't every child secretly believe, or wish, that their mundane life is not their REAL one? That someday they too will be tapped on the shoulder and find out about their dramatic, fated past, their true quest? Somehow that theme has stuck with me, and I still absolutely love to relive it. Nearly all of my favorite all-time books fit the theme. I have been known to watch otherwise average movies or {gasp} TV shows (yup, Dark Angel) because they fit the theme. I can't help myself.

TMT does not, surprisingly, fit the theme. Nor does Book 2, I think. Though maybe someday I'll write a YA that does. {s}

How about you? What are your favorite themes? What kind of story do you like to hear, over and over?

Medieval Word of the Day: speer (Scot and North): To put a question or questions; to make inquiries; to ask.


Cindy said...

Hmmm, I really don't know. I'll think about that. I do like to read about people overcoming difficulties in their past, and looking at how events shape people and relationships. Just read "Bitten", by Kelley Armstrong, that's one example I can think of.

Lori Benton said...


I can't say where this came from, as I'm not drawn to it in my reading, but I've written enough stories to look back and see that I'm drawn to the prodigal son scenario. Second-born sons who feel they've fallen short, somehow failed or disappointed their father, often with an elder brother who is the father's Golden Boy.


Anonymous said...

Okay, Ms.Psycho-analyzer. . .I think I figured out my theme. I was going to say it was ordinary, humble people who do extraordinary things. But I really think it's characters who are not what they think they are.

Scarlett O'Hara thinks she is a selfish person, and yet she saves her family and friends from ruin after the war (also that she loved Rhett all the time and didn't know it). George Bailey thinks he is a small man that hasn't done anything that makes a difference until Clarence shows him just how big of a difference he's made. Tom Hank's character in BIG thinks he is a little boy and yet he's the most mature of all the adults. And with my favorite movie? Peter Banyon thinks he is a middle aged accountant that is afaid to fly until Tink and the Lost Boys show him he is Peter Pan.

Okay, those are movies (but I DID read GWTW!), but it works with books, too. Meg in Wrinkle In Time thinks she is a below-average teenager but ends up saving her father (and her brother in a later book). Desiree thinks she is the ugly, boring sister but ends up not only charming Napoleon but marrying one of his generals and becoming the Queen of Sweden.

So I guess you could say I like the hidden talents. {g}


Precie said...

Hmmm...great question. I tend to like the "ugly duckling" theme..."the alienated eventually gets accepted" thing.

Susan Adrian said...


Interesting question, isn't it? I love to think about things like that. But since you sound a little unsure, maybe you can participate in today's game. {g}

Susan Adrian said...


Interesting. You write about it, but don't read about it; I'm the opposite. Hmmm.

Susan Adrian said...


Ooooh, good analysis. You surpassed mine. {g}

Susan Adrian said...


I like your theme. Of course, there's a little bit of that wrapped up in my theme too. :)

Sara Walker Howe said...

That's the kind of story I like too.

The storyline I absolutely hate is the child in danger. I refuse to read a book, watch a movie or a TV episode that revolves around saving a child/children. The stakes are not raised for me. It's our duty as adults to protect, defend and look after all children everywhere. No excuses.

Any writer using this plot is lazy, IMO. It's as if they're wondering how they can make it worse, and then answer with "Oh, I know. Let's go after some kiddies." Instead of going deeper into character to raise the stakes. It'll be too soon if I ever see another of these stories.

Lori Benton said...

"You write about it, but don't read about it"

Oh, I'm sure I'd read books with the prodigal son theme, and probably enjoy them very much, if I came across more of them. I've recently read a Revolutionary War series by J. M. Hochstetler (Daughter of Liberty, and Native Son) that touches on this theme--and the more she centered on the theme the more I enjoyed the books. However, I've been writing about this theme for 15 years, beginning with my first novel. I only noticed the pattern in the past few years, though, after it crept into my current WIP.

ChrisMac said...

I guess I'm a fan of the underdog theme. I like seeing people raise themselves up.

Susan Adrian said...


Another good one. What kind of movies/books do you like best that use that theme?

Lorraine said...

I've been out of town at a writer's conference so I'm chiming in late here, but I've finally recognized that my favorite theme centers around issues of empowerment. I love to write about kids discovering they have power or awakening a latent power, whether otherworldly, emotional, or just personal power.

That same theme echoes through my adult work, too. Usually my women's fiction books center around either a woman realizing she has more power than she thinks (again it can be personal rather than paranormal) or choosing to fully claim her power.

Great discussion!

And Sara I am SO with you on child endangerment books. Hate. Them.