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Thread: Questions about themes

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW satyesu's Avatar
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    Questions about themes

    Yeah, I'm asking questions again. Sorry. :<

    A. What is a theme and how are they generally used in prose?
    B. Why, in my limited experience, are they typically not declared outright, but rather hinted at throughout the work?
    Thanks for the continued patience.
    I ask questions because I know nothing.

  2. #2
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    A. What is a theme and how are they generally used in prose?
    They are confusing, aren't they? I've seen a number of very vague explanations. But the best explanation I've seen is a message you can take away about the human experience from the story.

    I've used them to tie the whole story together and show different perspectives of something. It's also the focal point of my story summary, because it's behind the motivation of the antagonist and why he gets into so much trouble.

    B. Why, in my limited experience, are they typically not declared outright, but rather hinted at throughout the work?
    Because theme is a message of sorts, it would easy to get heavy handed. Subtle is better because the reader can draw their own conclusions (or not).
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    Moving with my soul, step by step Lhipenwhe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    B. Why, in my limited experience, are they typically not declared outright, but rather hinted at throughout the work?
    Thanks for the continued patience.
    Besides being better received when they're subtle, it might be because forcing the theme into the open can detract from the story. If a message becomes too heavy-handed, it can detract from the narrative, and the story can suffer. At worst, you get stuff like 'Atlas Shrugs', which has the effect of being boring and turning the reader off to your novel as a work of fiction.
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    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    Why, in my limited experience, are they typically not declared outright, but rather hinted at throughout the work?
    hmm. How would you declare theme outright in the context of fiction? That is, Satyesu, how do you envision an author doing that?
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    figuring it all out Mike_Gasaway's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lhipenwhe View Post
    Besides being better received when they're subtle, it might be because forcing the theme into the open can detract from the story. If a message becomes too heavy-handed, it can detract from the narrative, and the story can suffer. At worst, you get stuff like 'Atlas Shrugs', which has the effect of being boring and turning the reader off to your novel as a work of fiction.
    Totally agreed. Being overt and slamming the theme on the reader would do the opposite of what is intended. The theme can be conveyed through your main characters actions - how he handles those actions.

    This isn't the only way, of course, but it may be the strongest.
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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I wouldn't worry too much about theme. Just write your story, and chances are a theme or two (or more) will work their way in.

  8. #8
    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    If people ask what your story is about and you say it's about a guy who gets sent to prison for something he didn't do, people might say, "Sounds good."

    But if you say it's about the plight of the downtrodden in an unfair world where the powerful people hold all the cards, you're liable to watch your audience glance at their watches and say, "Oh, look at the time ..."

    Better to stick to the story and let the theme take care of itself.

  9. #9
    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    A. What is a theme and how are they generally used in prose?
    I tend to use them as a unifying (subtle) topic under consideration. I also mostly don't know what the theme is until after the first draft. Then I re-read it to find out what is was I wanted to write about.
    B. Why, in my limited experience, are they typically not declared outright, but rather hinted at throughout the work?
    Thanks for the continued patience.
    For me, a) a theme is not essential, but is a good layer to have and layers work best subtly and b) I don't use an outright statement (War is Bad, mkay?) as a theme. So, a theme might be 'hope and despair' or 'trust and betrayal', 'jealousy' etc etc. The work is - in part only - an exploration of that theme, looking at it from different angles (and from different characters). Ofc, if you use a statement as your theme and you declared it outright, War is Bad, then the book might come in short?




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  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW satyesu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Layla Nahar View Post
    hmm. How would you declare theme outright in the context of fiction? That is, Satyesu, how do you envision an author doing that?
    Well, a big drive in the short story I'm working on is the question of what separates man from animals. I think there are a number of ways I could be blunt with it. For example, in one scene the protagonist decides to go to church for once and the homily is about where man stands as master of nature but servant of God etc. In another he has an existential episode where he strangles one of his lab rats for reasons I was going only to imply. I could just narrate his thought process.

    So there are two examples. What do you guys think? Thanks for the afvice so far.
    I ask questions because I know nothing.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Coco82's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by guttersquid View Post
    If people ask what your story is about and you say it's about a guy who gets sent to prison for something he didn't do, people might say, "Sounds good."

    But if you say it's about the plight of the downtrodden in an unfair world where the powerful people hold all the cards, you're liable to watch your audience glance at their watches and say, "Oh, look at the time ..."

    Better to stick to the story and let the theme take care of itself.

    I agree, just concentrate on writing a good piece and not declaring a theme, themes aren't that important in the long run, because people will interpret something differently. I hate when a theme is shoved down my throat in either movies, TV, or books. Let the reader find it themselves. If they're paying close enough attention they'll figure it out.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    Yeah, I'm asking questions again. Sorry. :<

    A. What is a theme and how are they generally used in prose?
    B. Why, in my limited experience, are they typically not declared outright, but rather hinted at throughout the work?
    Thanks for the continued patience.
    Every story has a theme. It's really what the story says about the human condition, and often about what needs to be changed about the human condition.

    An obvious, declarded theme is preaching, and no one wants to be preached to. A subtle theme is storytelling, and we all like a good story.

  13. #13
    Bananas are my favorite animal A S Abrams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    Yeah, I'm asking questions again. Sorry. :<

    A. What is a theme and how are they generally used in prose?
    I make my themes a general hypothesis (premise) I have about some phenomenon (subject) occurring in the world. For example: Torture, if used responsibly, can be be morally okay. [I'm not using my actual opinions on this subject, folks.]

    Then my story specifically "proves" the theme. I might tell the story of a girl who has to save her village from some terrorist who has planted explosives all over the place and the only way to know their locations is to torture her. But someone else takes the torture to far and kills her. They find the terrorist's accomplice, and after exhausting all of their plans, the girl takes over and tortures him and finds the explosives. The girl helps save the village and it helps ease her conscience about what she had to do.

    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    B. Why, in my limited experience, are they typically not declared outright, but rather hinted at throughout the work?

    Thanks for the continued patience.
    If the theme is declared outright, then the story won't be a convincing "argument" for the theme. People don't like to be told what to think. But if you present your story and they come to a conclusion that works with the theme, then the theme will make more of an impact. Giving someone evidence of how something could be is more convincing than just telling them how it should be.

  14. #14
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    One thing to note is that theme is different from message. Unlike with a message, you can have multiple themes that contradict one another, and you don't need to resolve which interpretation is "right."

    And it's in these cases that I actually think it's fine if a character outright states a theme. You might have one charact say "war is bad" and another character say "war drives civilization forward," and both may become themes.

    Most of the times, it's better to be subtle. But I think there are times it's okay to be blatant and obvious. It takes a lot of skill to recognize those times, though, so be subtle until you know you're good enough to recognize the times when you can be obvious.
    Last edited by kuwisdelu; 12-30-2012 at 02:09 AM.
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