Friday, April 23, 2010

A Quiet Little Theme

There is an underlying theme to all my writing lately . . . well, for the past few years ever since I sat down to write Margarita Nights. I didn't set out to have this underlying theme. There wasn't intent - at least not consciously - on my part. There was only the desire to write a story that I wanted to tell. Beginning. Middle. End.

Now, a few years later, me a bit older and maybe a bit wiser, I realize that everything I've written since that point contains the same, underlying theme.

It is not a loud, boisterous theme that beats the reader over the head and shouts yoo-hoo, look at me, I'm the theme. Rather, it is quiet and a bit meek, and probably not that noticeable at all. Heck, it took me until just recently to realize the underlying theme was there at all.

Now, some might say - once I'm published and famous beyond words - that the theme should have been louder, more boisterous, and should have shouted yoo-hoo, look at me, I'm the the theme. I mean, the underlying theme is important to me and to my community. The theme is one of inequality, oppression, and discrimination. The theme probably should be shouted from the rooftops.

It's not shouted from the rooftops. It is not shouted out by the characters I create or the compelling stories I have chosen to write about.

The theme is understated, maybe a bit - though not intentionally - undervalued, and just there, lurking in the background, a constant presence that becomes obvious to me (and to potential readers, I hope) with each scene and chapter from beginning, middle to end.

You see, I'm not one to beat people over the head - okay, I do with my other blog - with my anger and fire about injustice, inequality, oppression, and discrimination. I don't want what I write to be diatribes against those things. Rather, I want the importance of those things to shine through by the thoughts and actions of the characters I create. I want their outrage and disappointment to be evident without the theme having to shout y00-hoo, look at me, I'm the theme.

How about you? Do you insert the same theme into your writing time after time? Is it evident? Does it lurk more in the shadows? Do different themes appear in your writing? Is there a theme at all? Did the Glee cast do justice to Madonna?


p.s. And, yes, this same theme has worked its way into the urban fantasy that I've begun to write. Go figure!


Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm sure I must have considered my theme when I did the preplanning, but I have no idea what it is anymore. Oh wait! I just remembered. (My brain must have finally woken up!)

I prefer books that don't shout the theme. That way I don't feel like an idiot if I don't get it. :D

Michelle Scott said...

I think you're wise to make the theme take a backseat to the story. Most readers would rather enjoy a good book than be bashed over the head by a moral or lesson.

SJDuvall said...

In the majority of my books and ideas, I think they share a common theme, but it is understated. I start out with an idea for a story and theme just kinda happens. But there are a few stories that I have different themes, different underlying messages (and I'm very aware of those, probably because they are different).

But I agree. Theme should always take a backseat to characters and story. No one wants to be lectured to. :)

Bossy Betty said...

Sure--it's always what I am trying to figure out in life. It's cheap therapy!

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I don't think I have a common theme in all my books, but I do tend to have a lesson learned in each one. I like my characters to become better people by the end.

For what it's worth, I think the whispered word always has more power than the one that's yelled. Keep on with your quiet themes. :)

Cynthia Reese said...

Bossy Betty, your comment was too funny!

Scott, I think themes are the things that are apparent AFTER you write a book, not necessarily before. True, you can specifically say, "I'm going to explore this theme," but I've seen it done that way and it's come out heavy-handed and clunky.

I've noticed that in my books, there's a recurring theme of parental distance or abandoment ... funny because I was raised in a two-parent home.

Anonymous said...

I think my theme changes. Or, maybe it's the same...

The thing is, I think I have a larger, vague theme followed by the themes-of-the-project. Which can get cumbersome.

- Kristen

Indigo said...

Three books in, it's there and I'm not so sure how quiet it is. Two books are still stewing in first draft and the third is stronger by far.

I think if anyone knows me personally, they'll see it and cheer to know I'm there woven between the lines of my story. (Hugs)Indigo

Lady Glamis said...

Scott, I don't think there's anything wrong with recurring themes. It's usually great, for me, to have those same threads running through writer's works. It connects things together for me, creates a voice, and when the works are all read together, it can be really strong if it's not overdone.

I think it's great you've spotted this. I've started to notice the same thing in my work. :)

Scott said...

Ooops, how in the heck did that happen? I didn’t respond to any comments. Well, here I go . . .

Stina – I’m with you on the not feeling like an idiot part. Ha. I never truly consider a theme with my books. Personally, I absolutely abhorred having to find a them in a book in English class. Abhorred. Isn’t it ironic that now I recognize that there’s a common theme with my writing projects? I bet my English teachers are laughing hysterically right about now.

Michelle – I agree. I think when the theme is so dang obvious it lessens the impact of the book.

SJ – the theme just sort of happened with me. There was no thematic intent on my part.

Bossy Betty – I’m all about cheap therapy.

Amy – thanks for the encouragement. I’m not sure why the theme became so, well, common, but it did, and it’s not a bad thing. The lesson – to be learned by characters and readers alike – is important . . . at least for me.

Cynthia – do the themes that become apparent After we write a book, somehow become apparent before we write a book? The whole reason I recognized the recurrent theme was because I was planning my next project and – wham – there was the theme, staring me in the face and, possibly, laughing at me as well. : )

Insidethewritersstudio – the theme in these last few projects is pretty much the same, but it is how the characters handle the overarching theme that changes.

Indigo – I don’t think a theme always has to be quiet. I don’t necessarily think that every book has a theme. Then again, what do I know?

Lady Glamis – maybe you and I are more in tune with our writing than we were before. I know I’ve grown with my writing over the last few years since I started writing about things (i.e., themes, I guess) that mattered to me. It’s when I quit caring about an audience, a hot genre, and just began to write for myself that my writing took off. Yeah, I know, I’m considering urban fantasy. Go figure!! Still, I’m writing the urban fantasy on my terms . . . and I think, for me at least, that’s the most important thing of all.