Themed Out

This is a tricky one for me. Themes are what a story is all about. They are like the lifeblood that runs through the story’s veins. The plot is your skeleton, the characters are the flesh, and the theme is the blood. Your background research is the DNA that builds the whole shebang. Getting back to yesterday’s title theme, perhaps the title is the voice that beckons you to join this storyperson? The eyes are the… Sorry, I’m getting carried away. Never mind the storyperson. Back to themes.

One way of thinking about themes is in the way of questions:

  • Why is stealing bad?
  • What is it like to be human in an inhuman world?
  • What happens to us when we die?

The theme questions are not the particular questions of plots. They’re not questions like:

  • Who finds the body first?
  • Why are the fingers left on the doorsill?
  • How did the cat end up in the pigeon loft?

They’re more philosophical, all-encompassing. They’re a bit like the morale of the story, the take-away message, even though they don’t need to actually teach anything. They’re the reason you wrote that particular story, in the way you wrote it.

That’s the problem I have with starting. I can’t come up with a particular story I need to tell. I do manage to write stories like that, but I rarely have stories that are just dying to come out. I usually find them somewhere along the stairway to my brain, just hanging about. They come along docilely enough when asked, but they weren’t thumping at the gates to get there. At the same time I feel the urge to write, and I love it when they do come out to play. How to access them better, and sooner?

I think the first thing is confidence. You need to believe that you have something to write about. It’s like Aladdin with the lamp. He knew the genie was there or he wouldn’t have bothered with rubbing the lamp. Imagine if Aladdin had said: “Sure, the Genie came out when I first rubbed this lamp, but I doubt it’ll happen again. I won’t bother next time.”

But how to pick a particular theme? It’s the same problem I’m having with this blog. There are so many interesting things that it’s hard to settle on just one. All these brilliant stories that could be. How to pick the one to actually write?

Maybe the answer is to follow your heart. Start writing and see what comes out. Just start writing. Writing. Not thinking too much, and writing honestly.

Fiction’s a wicked game where the players evaporate into the thin air or plump out in full flesh at your whim. You throw the ball, and if you’re lucky, they’ll pass it along. If you’re really lucky, the whole game will eventually be displayed on television.

But none of it is real, unless you’re writing autobiographical fiction. The only way for it to become real, is if YOU conjure it up. You’re the Big Chief. This is your chance to play God. You create people with a wave from your magic wand, you control their destinies. You pick the theme they must drive forward.

So the best thing to do, perhaps, is just to try. Believe you have a story to tell, but don’t expect that story to come looking for you. Just start to write, and believe that the things will come. The shamans of old didn’t just expect for the spirits to come to them. They took some shrooms and started banging on a drum. I’m not necessarily recommending shrooms, personally I just use coffee. But the keyboard is the writer’s drum. Start banging on it, and believe that the things will come.

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