Monday, April 18, 2011

A Meditation on Theme In Writing

I love to write. Writing is an essential part of me. I’ve done it for a very long time. (I still have a copy of an early attempt at a short story, type-written, on the back of a form from my father’s construction business – it is one of the things that I keep as I went through my purging.) I was weaving my way in and out of work today and thought of the challenge of theme in writing. offers up that theme is “what a novel’s story means”. I like that definition – it is more finely nuanced them the subject (Oxford dictionary says theme is “the subject of the piece of writing”).

Anyway, I was walking down the hall, weaving my way through the afternoon, and starting to slow my brain down a bit form the hurly-burly of the working world and my wandering mind turned to questions of theme in writing. Specifically, what I was contemplating was whether or not I was missing an overall theme in my creative writing. I have plenty of subjects, but what I seem to be lacking is a central theme (or even more than one). It is an interesting though to me and I might mull it around for a while. Looking backwards, at times when I have been highly prolific in creative writing, I’m pretty sure that I can see overarching themes.

It feels to me, as I sit here at my desk this afternoon, taking a brief break, right. It feels right. It feels like a lot of what I’ve been writing lately has been words without a theme. I get a feeling that there are some answers nestled inside meditation on theme, so I am going to focus on that this week and see what comes out of it. Often, when we write, we feel the need to tell a story – whether we are telling it as prose or poetry. But, it is not so much the story (the subject, the characters, the details) that we need to address, but rather the theme that underlying the story, that gives it life.

Relative to that, theme is also what makes a character leap to life on the page. The characters theme is what the character means – not who they are, not what they are, not how they are or the hundred small details that vividly draw fictional characters, but rather the theme of the character – what that character means in the context of the story. Good characters (or perhaps easy characters) come rushing at you fully equipped with their own themes. Characters like that seem to grab you and say “tell my story, tell the meaning of my story”. They are inspired, and they are inspired precisely by that theme.

Or, at least, that is what I think about theme on a Monday afternoon.

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