Monday, April 23, 2012

Do You Have a Meta-theme?

As a reader, I delight in finding the theme of a work. Especially for a story I love, the Theme reaches me at about 80% of the way through - a beautiful, sweeping, unexpected crescendo of Big Meaning that hits me in the chest and takes my breath away. And, once in a blue moon, makes me weep with its truth and beauty.

As a writer, I write a story. I write from my heart, and I write from my gut. I see characters, and I hear them, and I try to capture who they are with words in black and white.

I don't intentionally write to communicate a theme - mostly because I don't believe that books should be in the business of constructing and sending messages to readers.  More than that, because I have a deep, unwavering trust that any story that comes from my heart is going to communicate a theme that resonates as true to me, and hopefully lots of other people, too.

So. I've always written the book first, and then thought about the themes later. This third book, though, is a story that is thousands of years old. As I find myself in the role of retelling the story, as opposed to discovering its basic plot, I'm finding myself in a different relationship with the characters than I ever had been before.

You see, to write about characters, you have to invite them to speak to you. When I ask the main character of this story what motivates her, what confuses her, what makes her hurt, she always comes back with the same answer:

She doesn't know where she belongs. 
Maybe she doesn't belong anywhere.

When I hear that, I nod my head, sit back, and try to communicate that into every one of her thoughts, words, actions and reactions. And then I realize - that's been a problem, maybe THE problem for all of my MCs so far. How does one find out where she belongs? Does it already exist, or must she make a place of her own? Is belonging a place, an ideology, a mission, a group of people, a single person?

These questions choke me up, and they tear my heart out. And I think, sweet readers, that this theme of searching for belonging, is a theme that speaks to me on such a deep level that not only is it present in all of my books, but also that books that carry the same theme get a special kind of love from me. you have a meta-theme? One that chokes you up again and again, so much so that you write about it all time, or latch on to books that hit it extra hard? I'd love to hear.


  1. Eheheheh...that link...

    I'm right there with you. My themes usually come after I write. Rarely do they come before. Sometimes they'll come while I'm writing. I think you're right--a lot of themes crop up once you start asking the main character who they are.

    I'm not sure if I have a theme I really latch's been so long that I found a book that I didn't have massive problems with so I could actually look past that and FIND the theme. But I think if I had to pick one, it would probably be the "Finding where you belong" sort of thing.

  2. My theme for my first book and this one I just started is acceptance. It's sort of like finding where you belong. But I think it's pretty important to take it one step further into acceptance of people who are different etc especially because of all the bullying that's been happening in the news lately.

  3. BETWEEN is definitely about the need to be a part of something. Harper needs to be sure her relationships are real, after she finds out everything is a lie, you know? And then when she's convinced that a friendship/love/etc. is real, she's desperate to hold on to it.

    But yeah, I didn't really figure tht out til I was nearly finished with the first draft!

  4. I'd never really thought about it before. But I love your strategy of questioning your MC's. I think I'm going to try that. My current MC is not appearing as strong as she really is, and it's making my story weak all over.

    I agree though on not writing to present a theme, but letting the theme come through on it's own. Since my WiP is still so raw, I'm not sure what the theme is, but I think it's close to yours. I've always suffered from a slight identity complex, not knowing what I really should do , or where I really belong. I think that comes through in my writing.

  5. I've been on-and-off working on a short story for a little while. I haven't had the time to devote to it unfortunately, so it's been kind of fluctuating in the back of my mind.

    I began it with an idea of one real-life issue I wanted to address, and it fit nicely into a short story with an unhappy ending... but as I worked on it more, I started to really want to give my MC a better ending-- because she deserves it. I'm just having trouble getting her there. So I guess the theme of her journey would be the process of acquiring strength.