Theme as the soul of story …

What does it mean?


Yes another post that keeps with the idea of story, something I’ve explored over the last few days, and one that I often ask my clients about: What is this story really trying to say? — put another way — what does it mean?

This is entirely separate from the concept and the idea the story is based upon, and the plot which I see as the beating heart of the story but it’s the other layer all stories have: the real meaning that works at a deeper level — boldly or subtly but there never the less. I guess you could call it  the take-home message. We might finish a story and be able to recall in outline what it’s about in terms of plot … it’s about a young girl that goes missing and then … but the theme? Love and loss, the price people pay for anonymity … and the reason we have a theme? Well, I would think it’s obvious, why do we tell stories? We are revealing some aspect about life? People? Religion?

And when you explore a universal theme that touches many readers you know you are onto something.

Theme, says Larry Brooks, is how you touch your readers. I recently saw The Life of Pi, a great book this is too. If you’re asked what is this about you are most likely to talk in terms of plot … it’s about a young man whose ship carrying his family and his zoo capsizes and he is left in a boat with a zebra, a baboon and a tiger, and eventually only the tiger … etc but anyone who knows the story will know straight away it is about far more than that. It sounds bizarre and far-fetched when you examine plot as merely a sequence of events, but look at the symbolism and what it really means and you see far more. So what are the themes? Faith perhaps is the main one, what makes the better story for something to believe in? And so on.

So theme really is soul and without it you have a fun story perhaps, but how can it truly connect if it doesn’t touch you?

I have on my wall my mission statement that I make a point of looking at most days. In one line, like those company slogans that most of us groan at, it says: Changing the world, one word and a time.

That is how I see my role as a writer. In an expansion of this, also on the wall, bullet-pointed are my missions outlined and the fourth one says this: I will know I have changed the world if only in a small way, in the mind of one reader.

It might sound egotistical — it’s really not meant to, and no one but me normally sees it (it’s just between us, right? Shhh…) but really isn’t that the essence of why we write (and read?), because if not without meaning and relevance what is it?

So when I look at client’s work and I read some great stories with some great characters but so often find myself asking … so what was that about? I know we need to get back to basics, we don’t just want a series of incidents, we want to dig beyond that and this is the exact point where I ask the question I started with … What is this story really trying to say? What does it mean?

I hope this helps as you all knuckle on with your writing … and remember the offers on my website run until the end of January for people needing a full critique? Perhaps a copy-edit on the novel you’re about to submit or self-publish (please peoples, don’t self-publish without having someone at least professionally copy-edit for you, it doesn’t have to be me, but someone!) or maybe you just want a final proof read? Well I’m here!

Here’s my website: take a look around Debz

Have a great day all!

'I Am Wolf' drawn by Colin Wyatt

‘I Am Wolf” drawn by Colin Wyatt

Make a difference with what you write …



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Filed under being a successful writer, Editing, freelancing, Learning to be a writer, Leitmotifs and symbolism in Literature, Literary Fiction, Living the dream, Loss, Love, Mainstream Fiction, Mentor, Mentoring, Passion for writing, Publishing, Theme

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