Theme and Variations

One of the topics currently under discussion on a writing forum is theme. The post’s author stated that she sometimes feels as if she’s writing the same book over and over again.  I can certainly relate, having recently taken note of the overwhelming presence of various kinds of oppression in my stories. You can probably make a good case for the presence of a dominant theme in the work of many writers. After all, any theme you choose — or that chooses you — can probably be explored endlessly in all its complexity and variability.

My particular concern, when looking over my published work, with an eye to writing projects still in process, is whether I am, unconsciously, telling the same story over and over, merely changing the settings and the names of the characters. I can see that I concentrate on the character suffering oppression, whether as a prisoner, a slave, or someone caught up in the gears of a society suffering the strains of unanticipated and extreme changes.

But what about the people or the social forces responsible for the oppression? They are the source of the novel’s necessary conflict, but I think a closer examination of my published work might show that I sometimes allow them to remain shadowy figures that aren’t fully developed. The source of conflict in a novel can’t be an abstraction; the protagonist must be doing more than punching the air against a mysterious figure that fails to reveal itself.

There are many ways to approach theme, and that includes discovering it after you’ve written the first draft, and then developing it more fully. Chuck Wendig, bless his foul-mouthed heart, offered some valuable views of theme in an old post. Go there. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/09/26/25-things-writers-should-know-about-theme/

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4 thoughts on “Theme and Variations

  1. Yes, It’s interesting. I think writers who are not nailed into a genre tend to have certain recurring themes they like to explore. And, as you say, there are so many different ways to explore the same theme. Re your own wirting, I felt you certainly didn’t confine yourself to the oppressed in Camp Expendable; I really liked the character of the camp’s commandant – so much so I suspect I liked him more than the hero.

    1. I never saw Casey as the “hero.” For much of the book, he was pushed around by events, and his anger had no real focus. But I could have done that better — made the contrast between him and the CO much sharper — the difference between someone flailing to establish a position for himself, and one working in a structure that he can eventually manipulate for his own purposes.

  2. But when you think about it, frustrated stabbing at an uncaring society is the basis for much of our lives, so stories have a luxury when they have an opponent who/which can be vanquished or fought or opposed. Maybe that’s part of their appeal.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t examine your own writing to see if you like what you’re doing, but the range for writers is very wide. Commercially, heros vs. villains probably sells well, as do the Romance novels which are many variations with the HEA a requirement for certain kinds.

    Give me the same – only different. Give me the same – but better than my life, with more control, and a handsomer prince.

    It is wise to take counsel, but it is often wiser to ignore it after a certain point in your writing life. IMNVHO.

  3. “It is wise to take counsel, but it is often wiser to ignore it after a certain point in your writing life.” As a general rule, that’s true. And if I’d reached that point. My principal writing problem is that it comes more out of my intellect than my emotions, and my characters suffer from that. Luckily, I have someone insightful enough to keep pointing it out to this slow learner.

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