The Redemptive Value of Suffering and Man's Inhumanity to Man
Back when I was in highschool reading works like Moby Dick and the Scarlett Letter and Crime and Punishment, I had an English teacher who tried to get us to understand the themes of these great books.
The Redemptive Value of Suffering was one theme she used to talk about frequently.
Man's inhumanity to man was another. I confess that back in those days, I didn't get it. I could have repeated what she said in order to do well on an exam, but how she extracted the theme from the books we were reading, I hadn't a clue.
I also feel like those great books were ruined for me because I was too young. Now I feel like--ho hum---I've read them, so why would I want to read about Captain Ahab and all that again.
That's too bad, because I'd see things in these novels that were totally lost on an immature teenager. Yet I don't want to have to work so hard to slog through some of those books. I'd need to have an incentive like a college credit or something.
I'm thinking about themes for a couple of reasons. One was that I went for a walk with someone who was toying with writing a book. She didn't have a clue on how to start, so I suggested that first she write a one sentence description of what her book was going to be about, to capture its focus. Then try writing about it in 50 words, then in 500. This was for a non-fiction book, but, if I were disciplined, I would so the same for the next novel I write. I would not set out to write a novel just forging in with only a vague idea of a theme, and a scene or two playing vividly in my mind on a very vague character arc.
Why? Because it's a whole lot of work to tame a piece that you allow to grow and expand in any and all directions. And eventually, if you're going to try to market it, you have to boil it down into those one sentence, and 50 word little summaries anyway and it's a real bitch to do it after the fact, let me tell ya.
So, as I ponder themes and the kinds of themes I want to write about and what areas I consider myself an expert to be able to write about, blah blah blah, I think that one area I want to write about is romance, but not your girl meets boy, they have conflict, but then end up living happily ever after sort of story, as enjoyable as I sometimes find movies with that kind of plotline. I want to write about romance gone awry, about projecting one's dreams onto another human being to the point it becomes idolatry, about how addictive and destructive romance can be when one is not centered on God.
What kinds of themes attract you? What do you feel qualified to write about and why?
Man's Inhumanity to Man? The Redemptive Value of Suffering? What kinds of themes attract you in your reading? Have you noticed how revenge seems to be a common theme these days in a lot of Hollywood movies? I guess one could say the real theme is justice, but justice becomes twisted into revenge.
And if you're setting out to write, do you think it's important to know what your theme is before hand? Or do you find your theme emerges after you've done your first draft? Do you worry that your theme might end up becoming a heavy-handed message?