November 15th, 2003
So, you want to write fiction for the Mudslinger?
The Theme's the Thing
I had trouble thinking about this aspect of writing. By rights, a theme should be considered before a plot is even worked out, yet many writers fail to work on it until it is too late. I'm as guilty of this as the next writer. Perhaps I should have put this aspect in at the start of this series, but it's a very deep concept, and I would prefer people to warm up mentally before tackling it.
What is a theme? Quite simply, it is a binding idea that is reflected in many ways through a story. A theme is often simple, such as 'There is no honor amongst thieves' or 'Revenge is just as sweet when it's cold'. A theme can be much more complicated than that, but the length of story we are aiming for rarely allows for much more depth than one theme.
A theme is something that you, the writer, are trying to tell your readers through your characters and their actions. Try a famous example - few readers of this will not have seen the Lord of the Rings films, and some will have read the printed works. The start of the film states that even the smallest creature has the potential to change great events. That is the film's main theme, and that is what happens. There are many subplots and minor themes, as well as many characters who are not hobbits, but the main theme remains that the hobbits are able to alter things. They are not great warriors or magicians, but they are the final instrument in destroying the ring of power.
What sort of themes are appropriate? Think of what books you have read and what they say to you, if anything. Maybe good will always conquer evil, or maybe evil should have equal chances at victory. Perhaps an idea of 'just because I'm evil doesn't make me a bad person' can work for you. Whatever you decide on, stick with it and try and bring it out in the tale. You will often find that the theme will write much of your tale, but you need certain things to happen to bring the information to the reader. You ought to try and bring out your theme in every scene you write.
One warning here for deciding on a theme - never try and belabor your reader with a theme that tries to convert said reader to a religious or political point. As a writer, your aim is to entertain instead of to preach. You do not need anything overly heavy in aspect. Telling people that the workers are the means to a successful communist state is as boring as a theme of capitalism is the only way to enjoy yourself. Unless writing for a political party or religious group and for a specific audience, avoid such themes. Hint: when writing for the Mudslinger, you are not writing for either of the previously mentioned groups.
The tricky part is to present that information to the reader. A successful writer will be able to bring it out in a number of ways, and the aim is to make the theme nearly invisible. You can use many aspects to convey things to the reader, such as weather, location (ever seen a dread lord's lair that wasn't unpleasant?), lighting, clothing, characters, contrast, and so forth.
Take the X-Men films, for example - a choice I make because most readers will have seen them. The main theme is that people should get along with one another, no matter the differences. Rogue meets up with Wolverine early in the first film. She has to shun society because of her mutation. He is shunned by society because of his mutation. Their interaction is made all the more interesting by these differences, but the average reader will not think of that. Compare these to Professor Xavier and Magneto who both seek peace between humans and mutants. One seeks to convert the hearts and minds of both sides, and the other seeks to convert people physically and forcefully. Mystique can be anyone she chooses - human or mutant - yet she is never truly happy in any form. Nightcrawler - the creature of demonic appearance who seeks the divine. Compare and contrast these - the viewer does it subliminally, but the writer has to think consciously about them.
Take the locations as well - Magneto has a stark and barren place for his lair in the first film, suggesting a barreness of intent, but Xavier has a pleasant mansion with a fertile garden. Think about the weather in the two places when the scenes are shown, and think about the lighting conditions. The principles regarding themes for films and books are the same - think about it.
How important is a theme? It should be a binding ingredient, but it isn't everything. Your story should reflect the theme in many ways, but never forget your plot and its logic. Some time ago, I saw the film 'Signs. It is a very thematic film that is based around the concept that everything happens for a reason. Unfortunately, it was overly themed, and it bludgeoned the viewer with this at every opportunity. This would not have been so bad had it not failed to make a sensible plot. The holes and logic flaws in the film ruined it for me - anyone who wants to know what they did wrong can email me for the ones I saw, and I am sure that there are many more.
Themes are important, and they should be decided before you begin writing. They are, however, just one ingredient in the melting pot of writing. If your theme and logic defy one another, hit the backspace key and start thinking.
Next - common errors and Mudslinger standards.
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