Writing Advice: Theme

http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com
http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

Theme has always been a tricky thing for me to nail down in my writing. Sure, I studied English in college and examined the themes of many books. But when it comes to my own writing, I’m usually so focused on determining what happens in the plot and who the essential characters are that I neglect things like theme. But I think I’ve found a way to include theme in my next writing project.

According to a literary devices website, theme is “the base that acts as a foundation for the entire literary piece…[it] links all aspects of the literary work with one another and is basically the main subject.” Theme can be found in just about everything you read or watch. One theme found in Harry Potter is the enduring power of love. You might say the theme of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is balancing one’s responsibilities with one’s personal desires.

Recently, I read something on Jane Friedman’s blog that made the idea of theme a bit less murky for me. In her post about plot and outline, Jane talks about being able to describe your story’s theme in one sentence. She says, “You don’t have to worry about whether that one sentence is a cliché. Better to spend your time worrying about whether you believe that one sentence.” In other words, choose a theme that comes from your core, and which you can write about truthfully.

What I found interesting is that she goes on to emphasize the importance of originality and detail in describing your theme. Rather than saying your theme is about “finding love,” say that your theme is about “how a jilted woman finds love in her female friendships.” The more specific you can be, the easier it’ll be to describe your story to other people and to yourself. You might even consider writing down your theme and keeping it somewhere to remind you of your story’s main focus.

Thinking about theme in this new way, as something that can be described as “how X became X,” or some variation on that, has really helped me. I hope it helps you, and I hope you can find the theme of your next writing project. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: On Discipline

http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com
http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

I think we can all agree that it is nearly impossible to quantify talent. What exactly makes someone a talented writer? You might say that having a good command of the English language is important to being a “talented” writer. But there may be people out there who have stories to tell, and who are not very good at writing in English. That’s why we have editors, after all. You might consider grammar to be an important part of writing, but someone else might not. Is someone who has published 20 books more talented than someone who has published only 1 book? Who is more talented — Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien?

As you can see, talent is a subjective matter. What you consider to be talented writing may be very different from what I consider to be talented writing. In a recent post on the Writer Unboxed blog, Jane Friedman discussed 3 Insights That Lead to Successful Publishing Careers. One of the points that she mentions in her post is the one that I’ve been ruminating on here — talent doesn’t matter. That’s certainly a broad statement to make, but I think that Jane has some compelling arguments as to why she believes that.

First, Jane says, “I’d like you to show me your talent. Point to it. Let me see it. What does it look like? I’d like you to measure it and show me, quantifiably, how it’s more, less, or different than someone else’s talent.” There is no way to quantify, or measure, talent. We have no scale or system that is set in stone to measure someone’s talent.

Secondly, Jane proposes something we should all be focused on instead of talent: discipline. Jane says, “Instead, what if we decided to believe that practice develops talent—that what we think is talent is specifically a product of years of hard work? That would mean having the discipline to practice and put in the work would be most important.”

I completely agree with this. What leads to success is the discipline and will power to sit down each day and get your writing done. No matter how little you do, writing every day and keeping up that practice is what will get you success in the long run. There are other factors, to be sure, but it all starts with the discipline you have to sit your butt down and write. So, instead of worrying about whether you have some nebulous concept known as “talent,” sit down and get writing! Make your writing the best it can be, and include as much of you as you can. That’s what will make you stand out and help you be successful when you begin to publish your work.

Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan