It’s called a theme

Red and green are traditional Christmas colours, and they’re my favourite. I’m not sure why I bother to experiment with others, because eventually I always come back to some variation of red and green. For a few years we had two trees. One always had a random collection of family heirloom ornaments hung alongside homemade ones and whatever lights we weren’t using on the other tree.

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The other tree had a ‘theme’. For a few years one of our daughters had a collection of musical ornaments, with a garland of notes on a wired staff to create a musical-themed tree. There have been our all white years, when we’ve decorated from our collection of snowflakes, snowballs, and white frosted pinecones.

This year we’re back to red and green again… mostly red, with a little gold and a few frosted snowflakes displayed against the evergreen Fraser (or is it a Douglas?) Fir branches. Yes, the tree is up, the earliest it’s probably ever been, but so far that’s the extent of my Christmas preparations.

My hubby dutifully brought all eight of our Christmas-marked bins up from the basement and I picked through them, choosing what we’d use for this year’s theme. I suspect I gave it more thought than I do when I’m writing and trying to settle on a theme for my stories.

Theme isn’t easy to define… at least, not for me. It’s one of those story crafting experiences that is more  intuitive than planned. In his book, Story EngineeringLarry Brooks says:

“You intuitively know what [a good book or movie] was about, and usually on two levels: it was about the plot…and, in a different experiential context, it was about what the story means… the theme…. Theme is what our story means. How it relates to reality and life in general. What is says about life and the infinite roster of issues, facets, challenges and experiences it presents.”

That sounds reasonable, but ask me what my theme IS, and I’m back to square one! Ha!

How would you describe ‘theme’ in fiction? Is the definition as elusive for you as it is for me?

~  ~  ~

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4 thoughts on “It’s called a theme

  1. Theme is always tough for me. I actually had to write three novels before I realized all my books are about loss, and the complicated relationship of parent and grown child.

    • Carol says:

      Good idea, Joylene. Perhaps if I examine my novels I might find a link, too. Certainly complicated relationships are there, but I don’t think that counts as ‘theme’. 🙂

  2. elderfox says:

    Well I’ve got a couple of book shelves on “How to…” & trying to put every needed component into the story gets complicated and mind boggling. And before I even get started putting thoughts in type I’m caught up in the tech-wondering what, when, where, why….

    • Carol says:

      There is definitely an overwhelming abundance of helpful resources available. Once we’ve read a variety of things and learned lots about the craft of writing, I think we have to jump in and begin writing without worrying about whether or not we’re getting it ‘right’. Our early work won’t be perfect, but our writing will begin to improve as we gain experience.

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