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Themes - first, last or not at all?



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Old February 17th, 2012, 10:31 am
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Themes - first, last or not at all?

Just wondered how people handle the idea of "themes" when they're writing?

I find this interesting, because almost every "How to Write" book I've ever read says you have to know the central theme/premise/"what the story is REALLY about" (whatever you want to call it) of your work before you begin. This way you can structure your plot around it, as well as individual character arcs. This seems to be the case particularly in screenplays, where structure is so important.

But whenever I hear a writer I really like and admire talk about this - be it Philip Pullman, Stephen King or Russell T Davies - they all say the same thing: they never have a theme in mind when writing a story. They write about characters, and interesting things happening to characters. King says that if he picks up that there is a theme after his first draft, he'll try to weave it in more strongly in the second draft, but that's not why he's telling the story.

I can see the benefits and dangers of both approaches. For the "no theme" approach, there's a risk the story will be rambling and unfocused, even perhaps uninvolving. But when a writer starts with a theme, there's a risk the story will become preachy.

How do you all approach this?


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Old February 17th, 2012, 11:57 am
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Re: Themes - first, last or not at all?

I once read it (can't remember where, though), that you don't have to 'think' of a theme for your story. If the story has a good plot and well-developed characters, the themes ought to show in the writing, without the writer intending that.
In my latest bit of writing, I took that advice and didn't 'pick up' a theme, before starting. I just planned out the plot and the characters, and throughout the writing, I felt the theme showing in different situations without my planning that.
Personally, I don't like the writing which focuses on the theme more than the plot or characters, because it feels like an idea/concept forced on the reader, more than something that enriches the writing and makes it meaningful as well as enjoyable.


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Old February 17th, 2012, 11:26 pm
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Re: Themes - first, last or not at all?

Quote:
Originally Posted by FaceofBoe View Post
But whenever I hear a writer I really like and admire talk about this - be it Philip Pullman, Stephen King or Russell T Davies - they all say the same thing: they never have a theme in mind when writing a story...King says that if he picks up that there is a theme after his first draft, he'll try to weave it in more strongly in the second draft, but that's not why he's telling the story.
SK goes into more detail in On Writing essentially saying that and that most books built to serve a theme are dull.


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Old February 18th, 2012, 11:19 am
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Re: Themes - first, last or not at all?

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Originally Posted by Wab View Post
SK goes into more detail in On Writing essentially saying that and that most books built to serve a theme are dull.
Yes, and Pullman/Davies said exaxctly the same thing in Davies's The Writer's Tale! Davies says "maybe that's how bad scripts are written".


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Old February 24th, 2012, 3:50 am
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Re: Themes - first, last or not at all?

First of all, I think one should have a good story to tell.

Themes should be secondary and from my point of view, they should never take over the story itself. This isn't a hard and fast rule, as there are obvious exceptions (such as the old Good vs. Evil schtick). However, I think the writer would face a losing proposition if s/he's promoting some sort of agenda.


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Old December 18th, 2012, 4:16 am
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Re: Themes - first, last or not at all?

I think themes are important in any work but I also feel that they should come naturally, not forced.

Most writers, myself included, start writing a story either plot-based or character-based i.e either the plot is the center of attention or the characters are (in most stories, both aspects become important once you've start writing. At least, in my experience). If both the plot and characters are 'strong' than the theme will naturally arise from what you've already set up.

I've found that first I'll think of a story idea and the plot, characters, settings, etc behind it. As I begin to write, I'll find that there is a theme to what I'm writing/trying to get to so I'll go ahead and weave that in a bit more strongly. I guess the theme kind of comes middle/last during the writing process, at least for me.

For some writers, it's possible they decide on a theme from the start (ex. good v. evil) and than find a story/characters that would best exemplify this theme. That scenario could definitely happen and I'm sure it does (in fact, I've read so many classical books in my English classes that I tend to think the author thought up the theme before the plot/characters!). But for me, personally, the theme comes a bit later.


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Old July 19th, 2013, 6:42 am
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Re: Themes - first, last or not at all?

Ray Bradbury on symbolism which, like themes, should occur not be imposed.

http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/sci...symbolism.html


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