Alice’s Restaurant

December 13, 2006

Themes – Making a Point

Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 2:41 am

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in amateur writing has been the failure to make a point.  I can only guess how often editors must suffer through pointless fiction.

Most of the time the authors who are doing it doesn’t even realize their story has to make a point.  They seem to think simply placing two characters on the page is all that is needed to create moving scenes.

Hah!

If you do not have a central theme around which the book revolves, you will have serious problems with your conflict, episodic and/or chaotic scenes, and a tendency for the writing to drift.  In contrast, having something to say can supercharge not only the scenes in the book focused on your point, but the writing experience itself.

Consider the story of Dick and Jane (as standard characters, not the movie) in the hands of a writer with a point.  Dick is an agent in a covert ops organization sent to retrieve Jane from an Irish pub where she is being held hostage by the IRA.  The theme of the story is overcoming the Stockholm syndrome.

Dick goes into the bar and suggests she leave with him.  She refuses.  He explains he’s an agent sent to rescue her.  She calls the IRA members over and has him trapped.  Now he must convince her to free him as well as leaving with him.  From here we could easily go into Dick facing his own daemons as the IRA works their Stockholm syndrome magic on him as well as her.

Consider Dick and Jane in the hands of a writer without a point.  Once again Dick is an agent sent to retrieve Jane from the pub where she is held hostage.  Dick comes into the pub to convince Jane she has to leave.  For the sake of conflict, she refuses.  At this point a lot of readers are going to ask why not.  Maybe Jane doesn’t trust him.  Maybe she thinks he is simply an IRA member trying to trick her.  Maybe she refuses because she’s trying to get the goods on the IRA members.  Which one?  All of them?  How do you chose?

If you chose all of them you are likely to end up merely confusing the reader.  And what happens in the next scene?  If you chose the option she is trying to get the goods on the IRA members, then you may find yourself accidentally using an old spy thriller set up, which may be more cliche than you intended.  Choose the she doesn’t trust him and you’ve given yourself the theme of trust.  Unless you try to change her motivation later on.  Then you get episodic.

You don’t have to necessarily know your theme before or while you are writing.  It’s quit possible for the subconscious to supply you with a point without your knowing it.  Then later, during revision, you can be surprised and delighted with what your muse handed you.

If not, if you are having problems with episodic writing or having no idea where to go, then you had better stop and figure out what the story is really about. 

Don’t try to grab a theme out of the air and overlay it.  Your point has to come from within the story itself or your characters, dialogue, and much of your narration will seem unreasonable.  You may get comments like “cliche”, “does not suspend disbelief” or “the characters seem shallow” on your contest results.

Your point has to be something you believe on a very basic level or what you tell the reader about your characters, and what you show them will not match up.  At least not without a lot of polishing.

Afraid having a point will make you preachy?  It’s a legitimate concern, particularly if you tried to overlay your theme onto your work rather than drawing it up from within.  Themes that are overlaid tend to come from what the author *thinks* should be true, rather than what an author truly believes.  It shows.

I could go on about what happens when you switch themes in the middle of a book, or what I mean by drawing something up from within, but this blog has gone on long enough, and I think I’ve made my point.

Alice
 

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