I attended a webinar last weekend. It was on theme-based plotting, and it was taught by a lovely lady named Paula Munier. From it, I gleaned some essential to-do’s if you want your story to fall flat on every existential or spiritual level. I give them to you as follows:
- What is theme anyway? Don’t worry about it. It’s just some fancy-pantsy term that literates made up in order to make you feel stupid. Disregard theme, pretend it doesn’t exist, and continue on writing in blissful, misguided ignorance.
- Symbols no more! A gun is just a gun. A puppy is just a puppy (until you kill it off, and then it’s just a dead puppy). Your readers are far too stupid to pick up that recurring moonlight is a symbol of feminine power. Neither will they get that a lion is a symbol of rulership. So don’t even bother considering your symbols. Nobody will make the connections anyway. They’ll just want more gunshots and explosions.
- Gunshots and explosions. What makes a good story? As many friggin’ explodey things as you can jam-pack in there. Force your main character to break his neck trying to look first in one direction and then another. So many things are happening, your readers will never be able to keep track of them all! Explosions are a surefire way to make the story stand the test of time.
- Only think about theme after the first draft. Do your business and write. All the thinking will come later, when your muse-inspired creative genius has pumped out 200,000 adrenaline-inducing, self-indulgent words. Now you can go back and look at that action and introspection and arbitrarily assign themes to it. “Hmm, themes of man vs. god sounds good,” you mumble to yourself, writing the theme onto your soft-porn romance manuscript*. Done.
- Trick your readers. Everyone loves a good mystery, especially if they can’t figure out what the heck the book’s about. Cover up your adolescent theme with turtlenecks and long skirts. Keep them guessing. Don’t ever have characters say what they actually mean or are actually thinking. The last thing you want is for them to uncover hints at the theme early on. Surprise twist endings are a plus: If you have led the reader to believe the story is about ‘love conquers all,’ then shock them at the climax when you reveal that your story is actually about ‘karma is a bitch, and so is revenge.’
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to theme in my latest work-in-progress, so it’ll be nice to have this cheat sheet handy for what not to do.
* Actually, that sounds pretty cool.
What do you look for in novels? What favorites do you have that expresses a clear theme? Comment or email me!