Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Leitwortstil - repeating words.

Pictured... THEME!

Hey writers, 

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, 


Peter Foote said...

For me, the theme usually involves a loss of some kind, and I ask myself how that theme affects my characters and their motivations. Do they struggle against it? Embrace it? Accept that nothing will change? A strong theme provides the water that your story floats on.

Admin said...

As a reader, I am drawn to simple concepts that convey complex themes. This is what I aspire to with my own writing.

Ernest Hemingway is probably the best example of this. As you’d know, he wrote with the ‘iceberg principle’ in mind, always. Take ‘A Farewell to Arms’: a guy buys a sidearm before he heads back to the front lines. No big deal, right, it’s a guy buying a gun before he goes back to war, so what? What I love about it is that Hemingway simply leaves it at that. A lesser author would have had an internal monologue or lengthy description of why the guy needs that pistol and what him acquiring that pistol symbolised. Instead, Hemingway focused on describing what type of pistol it was, and the holster, small details that were important to the character, yet could be seen as irrelevant to the reader. That is supremely confident writing.

As to me, when it comes to theme, I found I never consciously came up with a theme for my first novel, but found myself pleasantly surprised when drafting my second to find that although it is a very different story stylistically, it has the very same underlying themes. This was never a conscious effort on my part.

My aim with my first novel was never to leave my mark on the literary landscape, invent a new style or genre, or wow readers with my vocabulary. I just wanted to tell a cool story in a fast-paced way. The best feedback I have had on my book is that it is a page-turner, and people couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter because they were dying to find out what happens next. To me, hearing that from several readers was better than any literary review.

Jennifer Shelby said...

I have a theme in hand before I start writing. My stories tend to seed with an image, but they bloom when I find their theme.

SteveTP said...

All of this. Hemingway, in spite of so many genre folk considering him dry and literary and stuffy, is almost required reading for aspiring authors.

As for being literary, it's not so much that I'd want my themes to be lofty or heady, so much as I love it when a story gives you something to metaphorically chew on. Especially when it's more complex than, say, high school stuff like Christ metaphors in 'the Old man and the Sea', which is in truth a REALLY good book to use to teach masterful use of theme.

SteveTP said...

Also have to add Re: iceberg theory; someone MUCH smarter than me once told me to try writing a short story without exposition, but with underlying theme, and try to get your point across without explicitly stating it. If someone gets it, there's iceberg theory in action.

I've been conscious of it ever since. One of my big insecurities is that I'm not conveying my themes strongly enough, but I don't want to be too explicit/too expository. It's a crazy balancing act.

SteveTP said...

I like it. Start with an idea and build on a thematic foundation?

Stay tuned for the next entry 😀

Admin said...

I can’t hit Reply to comments, but Steve this is a reply to yours at 4:40.

What I did with theme in Fabel was to write it in a way that it could be read simply as an epic good vs evil thriller, and able to be enjoyed as just that without giving it any more thought; while at the same time if you want to dig deeper and think about/explore the ‘headier’ themes, you can. That was an especially difficult thing to do.

SteveTP said...

The best way to go in my opinion.