Saturday, November 10, 2007

A matter of themes

Themes, or "meanings" to stories, are essential. Every story should have some kind of theme, some kind of emotional quotient that usually affects the main protagonist. Usually this means a change of mindset for the main character by the end of the story, but not always; sometimes a characters views or ideas are merely reinforced by what happens in a story.

Now you might be asking yourself (or asking me), "but what about stories that are just for entertainment?" True, there are plenty of those, but deep down (maybe even hidden very well) there is some sort of theme to the story, even if it's not some big, eye-opening, world-shaking idea. A story without any kind of theme whatsoever is not a story. It's merely a string of events.

Don't believe me? Then go read some short stories that are action oriented ... I'll suggest maybe a Conan story by Robert E. Howard, or a Calthus story by Steve Goble. Yep, you'll find lots of action and adventure, heads rolling, bodies falling, stuff like that ... but I guarantee by the end of the story the protagonist has learned something either about himself, his world or other characters. That's where the theme comes in. Again, if a main protagonist learns nothing ... absolutely nothing ... then you don't have a story, just stuff happening.

Now, I'm not a writer who usually ponders the themes to my stories before writing, and often not even while writing. But I do look my stories over for a theme once they've been written. In all my stories (at least my decent ones), there will be a theme. It's not a theme I planned, and maybe not even one I like or agree with, but it will be there. That might be lazy writing on my part, but I have found that when I try to push a theme (ie., agenda) into a story, the story almost always falls flat. So I try not to think about my themes too much until I've written.


Steve said...

Thanks for the mention, Ty.

I'm really looking forward to your story in the "Return of the Sword" anthology.

I sometimes think of theme before I start to write, and sometimes theme just emerges from the plot without me being real aware of it. Most of the writing comes out in a big gush; most of the theme-sharpening takes place in editing afterward. But you are right; a solid story ought to have a theme to rally around.

-- Steve

Howard von Darkmoor said...

Excellent observation, Ty. You do come up with some great posts here - I should almost hire you to type mine. :) Seriously, can I quote you and double post over at my joint?

Ty said...

HvD, feel free to quote what you like.

Ty said...

For that matter, feel free to quote what you don't like!

Howard von Darkmoor said...

Just be glad I'm quoting you at all, mister!

Howard von Darkmoor said...

I see you found where I quoted you. Thanks for linking, too.