Writing Secrets: Excuse me, your theme is showing
Every now and again, we’re called upon to assess a manuscript in which the theme is pasted across it like a banner.
I’ve set out to make people realise how badly dogs treat their humans in the modern world, it says to us (not explicitly, of course).
The characters and story are secondary. The writer hasn’t set out to explore, but expound – and it shows.
What you have to remember is that we humans don’t, for the most part, care about causes or issues – even very worthy ones.
What we care about is people. We care about their struggles.
We can’t take in the plight of hordes of migrants, or starving millions. We just can’t. We tut, we feel momentarily bad, but it doesn’t touch us. Show us one child, crouched in the shadow of a waiting vulture … and suddenly we do.
So, this is a caution. Don’t set out to write something when only the theme is forefront in your mind. Don’t focus on it.
Set out to explore the lives of specific people. People like us, with whom we can identify. I don’t mean people from the same culture or part of the world as ourselves. I just mean people. Because, in the end, every person on earth is like us. If they’re drawn skilfully enough, we are able to empathise and identify with anyone, no matter how different their life and upbringing from our own.
From that, a theme will appear, no matter what. Write a light and frothy piece of chick-lit, you’ll be showing us something about dating habits, the attitudes of men and women, and the difficulty of finding love in the modern world.
So don’t panic about theme. Ignore it. Your characters will take us there, whether you like it or not.
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