Saturday, February 7, 2009

Theme setups, commenter examples

I'm just going to take some themes offered by the commenters and suggest stuff, but just as an example-- could be entirely wrong for the story, etc. Standard disclaimers apply. No hard feelings, okay? :)


Okay, the main theme is: redefining ‘preconceived’ ideas about a romantic relationship and dealing honestly with the subsequent needs that drive the desire for a meaningful partnership.

This feels more like a journey than a theme. The theme is about the whole book, not a character. Themes really aren't initially that complex usually-- they're either statements ("First impressions are deceptive") to be exemplified or concepts ("fate") to be explored. The above is probably a good character journey, but a story is more than the journey of a character, and the theme should probably be more ... flexible.
Let's take that "First impressions are deceptive." That's pretty simple and obvious. It's also the theme (one of the themes) of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And I think it bears some relation to your theme above. But notice that it's not just the heroine who has a faulty first impression of the hero. He has a faulty first impression of her. And all through the story, there are examples of first impressions being right (everyone's first impression of Rev. Collins, that he's a self-righteous social climber, is correct), and long-derived impressions being wrong (Mr. Darcy's father is completely wrong to trust his protegee Lt. Wickham). So the simple "first impressions are wrong; long acquaintance impression is right" is not sufficient. Only by reading the entire book does the reader evolve the somewhat more nuanced theme that First impressions are deceptive. (They wouldn't be deceptive if they weren't sometimes true.)

And throughout the story, there are all sorts of contributors to the process of this theme. There's the main story (as someone says, "About a man who changes his manners, and a woman who changes her mind"), but there are other subplots and revelations that add to our growing understanding of first impressions. For example, the Jane-Bingley romance starts off shockingly well-- both of these pleasant people seem to fall in love quickly and readily. But as Jane learns, Bingley is too willing to believe that he was deceived by his first impression of her, and she herself must face the reality that this perfect young man has a terrible flaw-- in his eagerness not to be too gullible to her, he is too easily persuaded against her.

Even the reader might have a first impression that proves faulty. Mr. Bennett, Lizzie's father, at first seems charmingly wry, and her mother a monster of materialism. But (and not every reader will come to this conclusion!) through longer acquaintance, the Bennetts reveal themselves as more than their first impressions-- Mr. Bennett is a rather awful father, and Mrs. Bennett, for all her many faults, at least does care about providing for her many daughters.

And the theme which sounds so simple becomes increasingly complex as more complicated examples and developments emerge in the story. For example, Lizzie and Darcy actually benefit from their rash and negative opinion-formation, because they have nowhere to go but up in their mutual esteem. Jane, however, starts out adoring her Bingley, and can never quite again achieve that level of respect once he has proven himself less than worthy. BUT... he actually becomes more worthy when he starts to think for himself-- and what does he think? That his first, admiring impression was correct.

So-- I use that example because it seems that you're also working with initial impressions or attitudes. I hate to be reductive, but think about boiling your maybe too-individualized observation into something a little more general and universal. Not that you shouldn't individualize the STORY... but the theme is usually more open, more universal.

Breaking it down, I would say that the heroine has to redefine what she wants because she has changed whereas, the hero has to change to redefine what he wants. I see the events that are introduced at the beginning - more in way of being plot driven with an undercurrent of change - maybe time for change...and the main inciting event is the catalyst for this change. That one character is forced to change due to circumstances and the other is making a conscious change because of circumstances. How would you set this up in an opening?

Okay, I think your theme might be about change, more change of identity and self-image ?? Anyway, I think that change as a theme means starting with the "before"-- what's the world and character like before the change? But also, what in the world and character mean they need change, that change is not just inevitable but maybe necessary? Show that. For example, if the heroine is afraid of change, then she pretty much has to change to overcome that fear. So-- just an example! -- she can be at the hairdresser's (this is a dumb example) and the hairdresser can say, "Oh, I saw this really cute cut that would do wonders for you!" and the heroine refuses. Or she sticks with her current boyfriend because he's reliable. As far as motifs, I'd be thinking of motifs that have something to do with lists or instructions or formulas, just to set up that notion of doing things by the book, of following a recipe. (And the motif can change each time to reflect where the theme is, like after the big change, maybe she tries to cook and realizes she doesn't have all the ingredients in the recipe, and then maybe at the end, she looks at a recipe and then closes the book and improvises and it works. Notice if "recipe" or "cooking" is the motif, it's not enough just to have her improvise at the end-- you want to show her having a recipe there and refusing to use it-- need the concrete object of the recipe to carry the symbol.)

But I don't know if that works-- I just think "change" is more what your theme seems to be about than romance-- that is, the PLOT is romance, the JOURNEY is towards a healthy relationship, but the THEME is about handling change. Maybe? I don't know, but try pulling away a bit from your exact plot journey and think about what it MEANS. The "why," not the "what".

Next up when my hand is not so numb--
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about: being true to your dream(s)?



Riley Murphy said...

I greatly appreciate you taking the time on this Alicia. As change seems to be foremost in my mind lately, with the kids off to college and life for me...well, changing, I thought it was a good ‘relationship’ theme - if that makes sense? I have been looking at the dynamics of my own relationship with my husband, paying close attention to the shift of power, taking place as our kids are more out of the house, than in – and I have found the idea of forced change -as opposed to self discovery ‘conscious’ change, an interesting human phenomenon. I thought, using this concept as the underlining theme to build my hero and heroine’s relationship, might be kind of thought provoking in an entertaining manor (cause it is a romantic comedy).

Your comments about self identity and self image are interesting. Also, you write:
‘ that change is not just inevitable but maybe necessary?’ I take this, to be the fundamental truth between inevitable (forced) and necessary(conscious). I figured if I had a widowed heroine who is forced to redefine her needs (because she is no longer the person she was before her husband died) this inevitable change is understandable and self explanatory, right? In that the reader would expect her to be different so there would not be a ton of ‘before’ to cover. And a hero, who meets her because of certain circumstances and is forced to get to know her - and during the process realizes the reason he hasn’t found the right woman to share his life with - is because he hasn’t realistically addressed his true needs - the ones that matter most, and he must do this now, in order to win her in the end. (Conscious change to get what he wants).

Change is universal isn’t it? We all experience it. Some of us are forced to change, for whatever reason - sometimes it works out for the better and sometimes not. But it’s the lucky ones, who are conscious of their need to embrace change, that usually succeed, because they maintain control of their own destiny.

Crap, this is all your fault! I wouldn’t be thinking about any of this without all your great posts. Nope, I’d be writing, writing and writing - not paying attention to the finer details that I should be – thanks for that, Alicia!

Edittorrent said...

Murph, I have no problem with your character's journey. I just mean that the rather complex formulation you had was the journey, not the theme. The theme is of course related to the journey, but as I said, and I think you're saying, the theme is not so specific to this one character, but about change. See how in discussing this, you came up with a more universal theme-- Those who embrace change maintain control of their destiny.?

Edittorrent said...

Maybe "Change cannot be forced; it can only be embraced." ?

Riley Murphy said...

That is a very good point - if you are talking about happiness. I think most people who are unhappy are feeling that way because they have not (at the very least) accepted the inevitable change that has occurred in their life - never mind embraced it. Maybe it comes down to control?
I mean, in the case of a woman who loses her husband, this is an instance that forces her to change. She no longer has the privilege of being just half of a whole, which is needed to parent her children. There are strengths and weaknesses that are brought to the forefront of her personality that might not otherwise have been triggered once she becomes a single parent. These forced changes, I think, are extraordinary because an individual thrown such a curve would probably have a tendency to be too caught up making the unfamiliar adjustments just coping - that they wouldn't immediately see how they were in fact, changing. And by the time they did get the chance to breathe and take inventory of this new life, the dreams that they had always envisioned - would no longer apply.
In the case of the widow for example, it is doubtful that she will need a man to provide and take care of her, if she has managed long enough on her own. She is likely to more independent, strong and possibly a little more guarded, maybe selfish too. So, the type of man who she originally married and tragically lost - wouldn't be the kind of mate she would look for now. It’s an unexpected learning curve. The biggest part of the lesson is simply recognizing it - as to whether you embrace it or not - well, I guess that would determine your happiness, right? Either you continue to lament the loss and cry over what fate has dealt you or you accept and embrace the challenge and work to build a new dream. One that is better suited to the person that you have become...wait, am I picking up on another theme? Say it ain't so!

Edittorrent said...

Well, I wonder if for her the change is no longer losing her husband, but now changing out of the independent existence she has out of widowhood.

Riley Murphy said...

Yeah, I'm wondering too...;)
Once again, thanks!

Riley Murphy said...

That should have read: Yeah, I'm wondering too, now that you brought it up...:0 (insert YIKES! here)