Writer’s improvement hell – developing themes.

Notes Mess

I have precious few hours remaining before Sunday is over, concluding my week off for writing. I didn’t manage to accomplish my goal of having a first full draft. I just stacked too many other things on to the week. It’s not that I didn’t make progress, because I did, I just didn’t make it as far as I wanted to. Part of the problem though wasn’t life, it’s that I continue to get hung up on things that need to be fixed. As I’m some 82K words into the book, going back to make some edits that work in various elements every time I think about them is no longer practical. I’m better off writing the idea down and setting it aside to include for the next pass-through of the draft.

One of the things that has begun to really take hold of my mind is theme – or themes, I suppose. In writing the War of Shadows so far, I haven’t been focused on theme, instead concentrating on hitting plot elements, character development, and increasing tension. Theme hasn’t been at the front of my mind. Now that I can go back and think about the story as it is, I can start to pick out weak threads of theme that are running through the book. In moving toward the climax and resolution, as well as set-up for book 2, I’m finding that theme is becoming an essential component for the story to hang together.

In every literature class I’ve ever taken (you can count this on one hand, I’m a computer programmer by training, and research analyst by profession), I’ve hated the discussion of theme. This originates, I think, from high school lit. classes where a book is read and discussed with inadequate context. Now that I’m older and can combine much more knowledge of history and politics, I can now better see what some of these books were trying to do. However, as a young person, they made little sense, and digging out any sort of meaning was a tedious and sometimes painful experience.

So if I hate discussing theme so much, why have I brought it up?

Because, as a writer it’s important. It’s important for the reader too, even if they don’t realize it. For the writer, the themes you choose help to guide the characters and plot. It acts as a bit of glue for the story as it progresses, themes also give a ‘feel’ to the story. I’ll offer up all of the Middle-Earth work by Tolkien as an example. A theme of change or diminishing of the world is present throughout all of those stories. This theme helps to tie the stories together, and also helps to make the change feel vaguely sad, but not tragic – much in the same way that we wish we could go back to places and times that are gone, like a child that has grown and left the house.

For the War of Shadows, and it’s associated series, I’ve got a few themes in mind that I’m looking at developing. There are several options at this point, because it’s still a fairly early draft. The one that’s at the front of my mind right now is the concept of ‘perception of choice.’ I suppose you could call it destiny, but it’s not quite like that, it’s not a pre-ordained sort of situation, it’s more that the characters are being pulled into a much larger conflict, while believing they are acting in their own interest for much more limited goals. It’s less along the lines of the chosen one, and more like the situation in Star Wars Episodes 1-3. Each side believes they are fighting a war for their own interests, but it’s not like that at all. The Chancellor is acting the puppet-master to reach his own goals. Really what’s going on is that the protagonist believes s/he has a choice, or is somehow in control of events, but in reality there is no choice. Another example comes from  the Harry Potter series, though it’s really a very minor theme. An example of how it shows up is near the end of book 7. Harry has the choice of chasing the horacruxes or uniting the deathly hallows. He chooses the horacruxes. In the book, you have the sense that this is a real choice, but it’s not. Harry will still have to destroy all of the horacruxes and face Voldamort. It’s only an illusion that he might have a choice.

The question that comes up for me as I consider this and attempt to work out how to go back and include it, is how do I pull this off? First off, I’m going to try and be subtle about it. The theme is generally present, but a few conversations muck it up a bit. I need to go back and revise those so that they don’t tread on this concept. It’s not anything like a major revision, just modification of dialogue, and motivation. The next thing that needs to happen is that I need to play the concept up a little bit in places where it’s missing. In those places where it’s not present, it will result in a certain amount of discontinuity in the story.

The next question, I suppose is why am I picking this theme and expanding it? Does it even matter? Yes, it does matter, the main reason I’m expanding this theme is because it’s going to be the backbone for the plot across the books. It’s not going to be spoken to directly, but the motivation of certain characters and the reactions of others will depend on this theme. It provides a framework for the plot and characters. So, I may dislike the discussion of theme, but it’s starting to seem so essential to me that I’ve got to master it, and understand how to use it in my favor as a writer.


photo credit: Spring via photopin (license)


One thought on “Writer’s improvement hell – developing themes.

  1. Oh those pesky themes! So important yet so elusive! So easy to lose track of- like delicate thread woven through the story. It too needs an arc- it too needs to expand and grow, just like the characters. This is some of the most difficult kind of editing. I’m in the “trenches” with you. Keep on!

    Liked by 2 people

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