Monday, November 06, 2006

The Theme's the Thing

Last week I did a complete re-read of TMT in 3 days, from beginning to end, and I'm pleased to say that I still like it. {g} I made little tweaks here and there, of course, but overall I enjoyed reading it very much, and kept getting caught up in the story. This is a good thing after lo these many years of working on the thing!

And I think the Deeper Theme works now, as it should.

Deeper Theme, you ask? Indeed. The first time around (when I thought I was done, ha ha), I had the Obvious Theme, the one I had originally seen as I wrote: self-growth, learning to rely on and trust oneself. Fine and dandy. I think most readers would see that without blinking. The MC is a young medieval girl who depends on others--men--at first, from one to the next, before finally depending on herself, coming into her own.

But when I got some feedback and read it through again, I saw threads for another theme underneath, if I could just strengthen it. Pluck those threads, here, there, make this one stronger, add a little background to heighten that one. And amazingly, when I did that the story got richer. The conflict was heightened, the motivations made so much more sense. It really was as if the Deeper Theme was the main one all along; I just had to see it.

I'm not sure it would work if you tried to write a deep theme from the beginning; in fact I think it would fall flat (and preachy) in the hands of all but the most skilled writers, of which I am not one. Underlying themes need to come from the characters and the story.

But what do you need to look for to strengthen a Deeper Theme, once you see it? I thought of a few things.

--It should be related to the main plot, but not be the focus. That's for the obvious theme.
--It should be threaded through the whole book, part of the character's mindset and experiences.
--If you look for it, you should find some mention of the theme in the beginning, and in the end. It can be considered a story arc, with a problem that is resolved.
--It should be subtle!! This is the hardest bit when you're highlighting for theme in a later draft. How much should you emphasize it? How much mention should there be? Not much. Hints, here and there. References. Thoughts.

How about those of you who have finished a draft? Did you see other themes after you were done? Did you consciously strengthen or highlight them? Do you look for different levels of themes when you're reading, or is it unconscious?

Medieval Word of the Day: scoleye: To attend school; to study as a scholar.


Robin L said...

I totally agree with you about the theme and then a deeper theme, and the deeper one only shows up after you've written a draft. Or two.

With my current book, Werewolf Rising, I thought the theme was going to be about control--learning to control one's inner nature. And it was. But the book also ended up having a whole additional theme about bigotry, one that I would never have planned to write for fear it would come off too preachy.

But since it wormed its own self in there, it's much more integral and cohesive.

Susan Adrian said...


That's cool, isn't it? And the deeper one, though unintended, is actually stronger.

I do love the magic of writing. :)