I found the following video through my friend Susan the other day (not the first time I've found something awesome at her blog). It's one of the TED talks, which I love and find only mildly addictive (mildly, I tell you, mildly!). It's not really about writing, but I think it applies. It's about business and people and success - what leads to success, and why people will follow that success. The question is simple. Why are you doing what you do? People will respond to what you believe, and not just to what you have, however great that might be.
The video is worth a watch, if you have the time.
The way it applies to writing, however, is theme, or so I've been thinking. Why are you doing what you do? What do you believe? It's not that you can't find a powerful theme while writing a story (it's been done, and will be done again), but there's something powerful about knowing what you're doing. Knowing your theme. To me, the theme is the hot emotional core of the novel. What is the feeling it's trying to explore, and trying to evoke in the reader? And in what way?
Knowing the emotional center of your story means you know what drives the story. And answering that question (Why?) allows you to use that theme. This is an opportunity. If you know the why, you can shape the story itself around what you are trying to do, around what you are feeling (and what you hope your reader is going to feel). The conflicts will be designed to specifically set these feelings into motion.
This is definitely something I want to work on more. I think a lot of writers hit the keys, get the story out, and then realize what they're writing about. But they're not using that theme; it's a sideline. And it's not always easy to edit that theme into a complex and powerful vision. It can be done, but it's hard; we're talking about the structure of the story itself.
Theme = why?
A simple little equation.
What about you? How do you approach theme, Fellow Sophisticates?