Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“Now Class, I Want You to Write a Theme Paper”

No scary words were ever said to a young man. Ralphie, the hero (the Scut Farkus thing) sees this as his chance to explain the deep Freudian reasons for his need for a Red Rider BB gun (with the compass in the stock). And off he goes, goal in sight, all he needs is a theme.

When I end a specific writing project, and I mean finished (no more tinkering, no more content editing, no more anything to the manuscript; done, complete, fini), the first thing I say to myself: “Self, what the hell are you gonna write about next?” (It is always good to talk to yourself in third person, easier to be objective if the other guy blows it.)

What is my next theme? What am I going to work on for the next year or two or more that will keep up my interest until the end? Many writers just stumble into a story. Other writers try to make the story line fit into some thematic clothes they find (i.e. science fiction, romance, thriller, etc.) And others think about it, a lot; get frozen and don’t do anything.

That is where I am right now with Sharon’s Chronicles. I’ve written over 180K words about our heroine, I’m beginning to understand her and her issues (drinking, smoking, her dog, her loneliness, etc.) so theme becomes important for the next book. What challenge can I throw in her way? How will she overcome it? How will she be affected by the challenge? How will she grow? Writers of themed serial books (Michael Connolly, John D. MacDonald, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Parker et al) continually have to protect their hero and maintain the character’s personality. But that’s a whole other box of issues to deal with; today I want to stay with location,  theme, and story.

First issue is location:
  • Does the location of where your character lives matter?
  • Does the region spin off potential story lines that can impact your character?
  • Can you push your character into one of these story lines?
  • Does the regional location itself contribute to the story by providing mental scenery?

Second issue is theme:
  • Does the theme (ie. terrorism, murder, theft, redemption) contribute to the basis for the story?
  • Can the theme be enhanced by the story?
  • Can your character prevail and overcome the obstacles to succeed?
Simply put, it is this overcoming of obstacles and the character’s eventual success that is the story. Now class, wasn’t that easy?

But the boy in the last row, head in hands, has to first find a theme.

“What the hell am I going to write about next?” I said turning to look at Sharon O’Mara, her red hair falling on my shoulder, “And you, stay out of this!”
“But I have an idea.” Sharon said.
“I said stay out of this.”
Sharon just smiled and said, “We’ll talk.”

More later . . . .

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