Tag Archives: themes

Tapping into the Universal: Child Missing

I watched the new BBC drama last night Missing, anyone see it? A child goes missing while people are distracted, in this case watching the football, and he is still missing 8 years on. Good premise, she says with a smirk, I might know a novel that uses that device. What? Not read my novel yet? But, and here’s my point, won’t be the first, won’t be the last.

I really enjoyed this and look forward to next week: good writing, good acting and I am not a huge fan of the crime series I see on the TV, although the Beeb often get it right. But the point that I am making is there are only so many themes can be explored in our literature and in our TV shows. We talk in industry about high concept, something I have talked about here before and this is one of those concepts — something universal, it has the intrigue that will appeal to the masses. Oddly this idea of missing, also used a lot in stories, seems to be a theme I have explored in different guises in at least three novels and for sure in a way in short stories although often missing in these contexts might mean something more metaphorical.

In While No One Was Watching clearly the theme is that of a child went missing, at the same time President Kennedy was assassinated, and is never found — or is she? So very much this idea of the horrors of a child missing, every parents’ nightmare, is explored. The theme being what happens when you turn your back for a second. Also explored in the current scenes with the classroom shooting in the novel. So all big themes but universal, right?

In I Am Wolf Amy is missing. But she’s a reporter, not a child and she is missing in the wilds of Alaska, possibly misadventure or maybe it’s something more. But while this drives the actions of her ex-lover who leaves his life in New York behind to come to Alaska to look for her, the premise and the theme is very different. This novel is about identity, and the feral child and Amy’s obsession with wolves a huge part of it. But I hope it also has something that has universal connection — but in a different way. Who has not wondered about walking out of their life?

Isle of Pelicans returns to a missing child, but handled in a totally different way to Eleanor Boone.  Eight-year-old Tommy is gone, his mother dead, a country singer whose body is found in Golden Gate Park. But where is her son? It’s a hight profile case, one suspect, but he’s an old man and he’s dying. Enter our unwitting, ex-con Frank, affectionately known (to me anyway) as the reluctant clairvoyant  who knows about the kid long before he goes missing. This one is pacey, contemporary and has a ticking clock, where is the kid? But with no real leads, only Frank and his college side-kick, and a bad case of cross wires, will he be found?

So you see how this theme of missing is used in my writing but in very different ways, I hope anyway.

I loved Gone Girl, yet to see the movie though.

These themes of lost or missing are huge and think how many times you have seen them used. But like so many other themes we return to, and this notion there are only seven basic plots — it doesn’t matter. Do it well, own it, make it unique and you have something.

And right now I have to now return to the exciting climactic scenes in Isle of Pelicans to see if they find Tommy …

Have a great day! Don’t get wet! Unless you want to!

And good luck to my old writing group in Bangor who celebrate with a showcase of readings tonight — so if you’re in the area, do go along! Wish I could be there!

Showcase Poster BCWG 2014


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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