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suspensewriter

How Do You Choose You Story's Theme

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To be honest, I just come up with an idea for a story and a theme (or themes) sort of emerges. 

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Choosing one?  I have no idea.  Something that I've seen or read, and that I've mulled over quite a bit in my head.

 

Some are things that I feel have not been represented well.  Like "faith," for example.  We all think we have it.  We all fail at it.  As Christians, we talk about it all of the time.  It's integral to most everything we do from science to religion.  Yet, it seems to me that it is only discussed or described from one facet of the prism.

 

So, I add a couple of other facets as I write.

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3 hours ago, Accord64 said:

To be honest, I just come up with an idea for a story and a theme (or themes) sort of emerges. 

This sounds like me. I figure if the MC is well-rounded, they know what they want in life and the story naturally unfolds to show what they learn and if they get (or should get) their want. This develops into the theme. 

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I think i usually derive it from the purpose of why I desire or wish to tell the story. The themes for my Bane of Disaster series came relatively easy for me because my purpose was so clear in my mind... other times the theme naturally flows from the purpose - sometimes without me cognizantly realizing it. For instance, my fantasy book purpose was to write a fun, christian morally focused book that middle/high school students could enjoy - both male and female, however, a specific friend's daughter was the impetus for the inspiration and why I wanted to write it originally. With that in mind, I originally knew one aspect I wanted to emphasize was family, but aside from that I had no idea for overall themes. Parts of that book almost wrote themselves, and some of the plot twists surprised even myself. Not sure if that's helpful or not... 

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Interesting thread.

 

When I worked on Demons the themes came out gradually as I progressed with it (it was the first major piece of writing I had done for several years, so not a surprise really).  When I came to write Child of No One and Granny Annie the themes were clearer from the start. Perhaps this was because I did some plotting first before writing the actual work.

 

With the series I am working on now - again as I plot out the three books with each the relationship between the action/character story and the theme are close. SO for me themes are important. They give me a focus to keep me on track when I plot. But it not a case of having a burning desire to 'get my message out' - it just helps me as a writer not to go off track.

Edited by Shamrock
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For me, I'm finding it easier to plot and prepare for writing the story of I know what the theme is. The characters flaws, the conflict - I can tailor all of it to make the theme really powerful. 

 

As to coming up with one... I'm finding that the theme prompts the characters and the story. So I might ask a question that will become the thematic question and the rest flows from that. 

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This begs an interesting question: Should the theme drive the story, or the story drive the theme?

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I like to preach, so I pick my themes really early. Then, I work my characters and plot around that theme. The theme is the purpose of telling the particular story that I'm telling out of the millions and millions of possible stories I could be telling.

 

If you like the "sub-creator" idea that I've heard from Tolkien, then you might compare our acts of creation to our Father's act of Creation. The theme of Creation is God's Glory. With a perfect God, what better, more moral theme could we have? I'm of the opinion that the theme makes or breaks the story. For example, Breaking Bad, the TV show. I heard from so many people how great a show it was, so I tried watching it (before I'd completely given up on non-Christian moving pictures). I couldn't get through the third season. True, the storytelling was great. The show was powerful. The characters were authentic. BUT... There was no hope, no goodness, no beauty that wasn't covered in ashes and filth. The theme of Breaking Bad was all about the evil that exists inside even the most harmless, upstanding seeming person. Breaking Bad was about Corruption (as the title clearly says from the very beginning). That is not a theme that resonates at all with a redeemed soul unless you stretch it and constantly think how all these characters need Jesus in their lives. But, I know enough real people like that, I don't need to waste time watching pretend people be that way.

 

All right. How was that for a theme-less, meandering post that didn't really go any

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5 hours ago, Accord64 said:

This begs an interesting question: Should the theme drive the story, or the story drive the theme?

 

If you’re writing a story, I’d say the story has to be the driving force. If your theme is the primary driver, you might get a good piece of writing—an essay, sermon, etc. but you won’t have a good story.

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1 hour ago, Zee said:

 

If you’re writing a story, I’d say the story has to be the driving force. If your theme is the primary driver, you might get a good piece of writing—an essay, sermon, etc. but you won’t have a good story.

 

 

I gotta agree too.

 

The story is king.  Themes can be woven in.

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I wonder, though, if the best of both worlds makes for masterpieces. 

 

the story engages, however, the theme impacts. 

 

I personally wouldn't want to write an engaging story if it has no lasting impact, however without engagement, there can be no lasting impact either. 

Edited by Jared Williams
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🙂 I think I can certainly understand that logic. I may be naive, too. The impact has always been the impetus and purpose behind why I write. Not sure if that's right or wrong, but I also think that the past ten years since I've started writing, I've been on a continuous journey of improving my story telling to match the impact I wish to convey... if that makes sense. I don't know if writing engaging stories will ever become more important to me than the impact I wish to have through the themes, but I wonder if i'm thinking of this in a different construct... I do see in my fantasy book that my themes going in have been much broader and generic, allowing me more freedom in my story writing, and I think that's allowed my imaginative juices to flourish more and more. It's an interesting dichotomy. I wonder if it's a similar dichotomy as the age old question of which is more important, Easter or Christmas? Without Christmas, there would be no Easter, but without Easter, Christmas would be meaningless. 

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49 minutes ago, Jared Williams said:

I don't know if writing engaging stories will ever become more important to me than the impact I wish to have through the themes, but I wonder if i'm thinking of this in a different construct.

 

You're overthinking this!

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I run with two themes, the one I start with when the story idea comes to me, and the deeper theme that flows from my personal struggles translated into the world of the story. The Second theme comes to me midway through the writing.

 

For example, Flight After Death was originally about how people manipulate the justice system to excuse their own bad conduct while punishing their enemies. I projected that into an alternate purgatory, where people, not angels, staff the courts of the afterlife and are constantly creating court franchises to advance their own agendas. I began outlining the story while my daughter was in the hospital. Therefore I added a side plot about the hero feeling guilty about the death of his son, because he wasted money gambling that should have gone to hospital bills. This changed the core theme from justice and injustice to Repentance and forgiveness. The two themes are intertwined, so it worked.

 

An unfinished book of mine, The Loyalty of Trolls, began as an exercise in understanding loyalty and its abuses. A proud, corrupt leader has a plan to exploit his followers to conquer the world. I set that manuscript aside to write another book, a nonfiction. After finishing that book, Job Rises, about finding resilience to overcome suffering, I tried to simplify my understanding of spiritual warfare and spiritual growth. I hit on a five step process using a harvest metaphor: plowing (suffering), planting seed (the Son of God, who transforms your mind), pouring water (the Holy Spirit, which heals your emotions), plucking weeds (the Father, who rearranges your priorities and reorders the material world to benefit you), and Producing a harvest (overcoming deep personal flaws and winning souls). With that process in mind, I hope to reframe The Loyalty of Trolls along those lines. The leader who abuses the loyalty of his followers, through suffering, learns to show loyalty and compassion in return, to offer his own life to save his people and the world.

 

So my advice is to pick an interesting theme to drive the plot, then as you begin to understand yourself and your characters better, find a related theme to drive the character arc. The two themes must work together. It is better if pursuing one theme makes the other harder to achieve. A choice must be made. That makes for a powerful story.

 

A further note about my troll story. The Hero must trust that the formerly tyrannical leader has changed in order to make the right decision, but the leader cannot tell them that he has, or the true villain of the story will suspect it. This adds a third theme, trusting that people can change and rewarding them with your allegiance when others are calling you foolish for doing so. If you construct your characters and their stories carefully, you can add additional themes to enrich the story. All the extra themes must interlock, and you can invert them, having a character who fails to rise to the occasion, causing disaster.

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On 9/5/2020 at 5:16 PM, paulchernoch said:

I run with two themes, the one I start with when the story idea comes to me, and the deeper theme that flows from my personal struggles translated into the world of the story. The Second theme comes to me midway through the writing.

 

Now that's interesting, Paul.  I've never heard of anyone doing that, but now that you mention it, it does make sense.

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I used to focus on just writing the story and encouraging the theme that naturally emerged through that, but recently I've started to think that it's more important to begin with the theme and to write the story around that. It's harder for me to come up with the theme first, but if I don't I end up writing a story more for entertainment than for the glory of God. Preachiness is a concern, but I think if I want a good story I can iron that out, and that preachiness isn't as great a threat as writing only to entertain and for no other purpose. 

 

My themes most recently have been trying to correct various lies. For example, a few days ago I heard netflixs is releasing this movie promoting abortion, that upsets me. So I found every Bible verse that I could about children and birth and I started writing a story around those verses. I don't want to make it preachy, so its going a bit more slowly, but because I'm not writing it just to amuse myself it has a bigger purpose. A reason to be written more than so many other things that I have written over the years. 

 

Hope this is helpful, Suspencewriter. :) 

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44 minutes ago, Rene said:

For example, a few days ago I heard netflixs is releasing this movie promoting abortion, that upsets me.

 

Really??  That's disturbing.

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