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Johne

How To Find Your Thematic Principle

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(Our own) K.M. (Katie) Weiland breaks it down for us.
https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/thematic-principle/

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Thematic Principle: What Is It?

The simplest way of expressing theme is via the thematic principle. The thematic principle may be a word, or it may be a sentence. Either way, your thematic principle is the “single, unifying idea” we talked about. It your story’s representation and exploration of a universal Truth.

This Truth can take many forms:

  • It may prove a commonly held Truth (“wars are evil”), or it may be an attempt to disprove a Truth (“wars are a necessary evil”).
  • It may tackle the deepest questions of human existence (“why are we here?”), or explore our most deeply held values (“love is the most important thing”).
  • It may offer answers, either implicitly or explicitly (“love conquers all”), or it may choose only to raise questions (“does love conquer all?”).
  • It may focus on moral dilemmas (“is it okay to protect your own life at the expense of someone else’s?”), or it may simply highlight certain patterns (“life in the inner city”).
  • It may choose to comment (“Nazi Germany was immoral”), or it may attempt only to observe (“events of the Holocaust”).
  • It may choose a Truth that is high-minded (“life has meaning”), or it may be mundane (“high school is hard”).
  • It may be optimistic (“life is wonderful”), or it may be pessimistic(“humans are selfish”).

The one thing the thematic principle can’t be is vague. At first glance, this may seem an easily disprovable suggestion, since you can probably name great stories that seem pretty foggy in the thematic area. This is because excellent themes are rarely blatant or “on the nose.” But if a story works, you can bet that however subtle its themes may be, they are neither vague nor accidental.

There is a huge difference between a vague theme, told by an author who was never quite sure what the theme was, versus a subtle theme that permeates every part of a story so completely it becomes almost invisible via its very prominence.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Johne said:

There is a huge difference between a vague theme, told by an author who was never quite sure what the theme was, versus a subtle theme that permeates every part of a story so completely it becomes almost invisible via its very prominence.

Somewhere I read that we should not hit the reader over the head with the theme (although I think "moral" was the word).

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Thanks for sharing. Working on a rewrite and bringing out the thematic principle in a subtle way is definitely a challenge. Being clear about what one wants to convey surely helps!

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It's the fact that the thematic principle is subtle that makes it powerful. Nobody wants to be hit over the head with anything, least of all somebody else's principles. The best stories do it so subliminally that you don't realize until later that you've been changed.

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On ‎3‎/‎18‎/‎2019 at 1:17 PM, carolinamtne said:

Somewhere I read that we should not hit the reader over the head with the theme (although I think "moral" was the word).

 

Here, here, Carolina.  No one likes to get hit over the head with the theme.  It's kind of like begin hit with a wet fish.

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