I'm an idea guy. I love 'concepts'. I love it when a story is, at its core, something simple, but when you dig into it and try to wrap your brain around what you just read (or watched), the concepts buried beneath swallow the rudimentary plot whole. Hey! Theme!!!
Ridley Scott's seminal 1982 sci-fi classic, Blade Runner, does this more obviously (while still being complex/good) than any other example in fiction I could cite off hand. The plot; grizzled ex-cop dragged out of retirement to hunt down rogue robots.
Buried in the 'cop hunts robots' simplicity are the hardcore fundamentals of "existential science fiction", Blade Runner asks us what it means to be human. Deckard ponders his own existence, and indeed his own nature just as Batty does all he can to not go quiet into that great night. Deckard has lost what it means to live, and Batty doesn't want to die. How could a machine not 'want' death, why do memories define 'life'? Even this is the basest and most rudimentary analysis. We could go into the social commentary about people vs. machines; whether anyone truly is alive in the grander sense in the capitalist dystopian nightmare that is Los Angeles, 2019. The film punctuates the whole affair by presenting us with clues and secrets and then asks us to figure it out for ourselves. It presents a fundamental, ambiguous question, "Are we alive? Why?" and gives the viewer all the tools we need to formulate our own answer. We can debate it endlessly, and everyone has their own answer for their own reasons, but ultimately, that's the point. That's a good use of theme! To be certain, there are more themes at work in Blade Runner, but there's no need to go deeper.
With my own writing, my ultimate goal, what I hope to accomplish, is to entertain by spinning a good yarn. When Virtual Machines (TM) eventually lands in hands, I'd at least hope that people are entertained by it. Ideally, in a perfect world, and if my rudimentary skills can pull it off, it will make people think. It will have people pondering a few truths. It might even, *gasp*, spur some debate. That's the hope anyway.
We're all taught about the literary theme in high school, some of us pick up on it a little earlier, some of us never do. Theme trumps everything else for me; Without a theme, a story is just a procession of events with no circumstance;
"Then this happened, then this happened, and finally this happened. The end."
There's no underlying element, no reason for being. I hang a lot of my thoughts on the theme, whether it's a thematic concept (Hey reader, Are we all machines?) or a thematic statement (Hey reader, WE ARE all machines!)
In my mind, the best stuff out there in literature, film, even in gaming, is highly thematic. It has to be to stick.
Writers, how do you approach theme? Is it a rudimentary thing (man vs. something or other)? Do you plan ahead of time and write around it? Do you draw your theme out of your narrative after the fact? Is it abstract in your work? Direct? Do you even really ponder theme at all and leave it up for the reader to decide?
Until next time,