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sunandshadow
07-11-2005, 09:13 AM
In the absolutewrite chat the other evening, I was surprised to hear that rather than intentionally building a book to teach some moral lessons, as I've always thought it was supposed to be done, some people deliberately try to avoid this. So now I'm curious: If you do put a thematic message in your writing, what message and why? If you don't, why not?


My WIP is basically about how to seek and obtain happiness in one's life, through friendship, passion, commitment, and family. Also that civilization is created as an emergent feature of creating a balanced interdependant group of different types of people.

A secondary theme seems to be emerging that men and women ought to be regarded as completely equal and sex should not have anything to do with reproduction, which should instead be based on two people having a bond of love such that each completely likes and respects the other and consequently they want to create a child who is a mix of them both.

Pthom
07-11-2005, 11:05 AM
...rather than intentionally building a book to teach some moral lessons, ... some people deliberately try to avoid this. So now I'm curious: If you do put a thematic message in your writing, what message and why? If you don't, why not?I'm not sure I intentionally leave out a moral theme but when I'm writing, I am not specifically conscious about creating one. I don't read a novel to discover some great insight in morals and I sure don't use the inclusion of a moral theme as a criteria for choosing one to read.

I'm more interested in an innovative approach to a problem, ie: matter transporters, time or faster-than-light travel, dealing with an advanced culture (or one that is less advanced), or the like. Sure, there is a theme in any of them that can be devined. I think I know teachers who could devine a theme from the ingredients list on a box of Cheerios--maybe even a moral one, come to think of it....

But when I set about telling a story, it isn't with a particular moral lesson in mind. Hell, I'm mostly without 'em anyway...what business have I in preaching one?
:Shrug:

GailKavanagh
07-11-2005, 03:17 PM
I think if you have a personal moral sense it comes through in your writing - you don't need to hammer it home.

My primary goal is to entertain - other people see themes in my stories that I didn't even know were there. If pressed to come up with a theme (Expresso Fiction, for example, always asks what the theme of the submission is) I usually have no answer. I'm constantly surprised that it seems to be required, to know what your theme is, as if stories could be stamped out that way.

Saanen
07-11-2005, 04:29 PM
I have a few themes that seem to be common throughout all my work, just because they're part of my own character and end up in my writing because I'm the writer. I certainly don't try to put themes into my work. The absolute last thing on my mind when I'm writing is the theme, although if pressed I will grudgingly admit that a theme is there, intertwined inexplicably with the main character and the way she or he grows throughout the book.

Tirjasdyn
07-11-2005, 06:12 PM
What's the point? The Lit Crit people will eventually get a hold of it and twist the world a 1000 different ways.

Some books do have moral lessons built in....they come off preachy and much later when the advice no longer applies, asinine.

Tell the story first. A lesson should be apparent with out hitting someone over the head. A good example if this is "Speak".

Nateskate
07-11-2005, 08:33 PM
What's the point? The Lit Crit people will eventually get a hold of it and twist the world a 1000 different ways.

Some books do have moral lessons built in....they come off preachy and much later when the advice no longer applies, asinine.

Tell the story first. A lesson should be apparent with out hitting someone over the head. A good example if this is "Speak".

I've yet to bump heads with editors yet, so I'm not sure if my story will be precisely what I hope it will look like.

It's interesting, but I've seen some "preachy" kinds of stories. And I think one of the reasons why people fail to write effective stories with a message, is that people copycat writing styles, and rather cruedly add in their message.

The best fables and myths and legends of yesteryear were pretty much people making a moral point of some kind. And it never came across as preachy, but mostly as a story with a point. But if you looked at the messages, they were always subtle, and didn't come across like a Pepsi commercial.

sunandshadow
07-11-2005, 08:39 PM
I don't think theme has to be hammered home, stamped out, or preachy. Consider worldbuilding for example - if you are portraying a society, the differences between it and today's society and whether you present these differences as causing the characters happiness or suffering will imply/reveal some of your thoughts about what society ought to be like and what's good for people. In many famous science fiction novels like The Handmaid's Tale and The Left Hand of Darkness the worldbuilding was deliberately built to convey these sort of thoughts - are they preachy?

Nateskate
07-11-2005, 08:53 PM
I think if you have a personal moral sense it comes through in your writing - you don't need to hammer it home.


You've said something profound here. At least it is to me. What people think can't help but come out in some way. However, a conviction of some kind is more likely to stick out, depending on whether it is with the current or against the current of pop culture. I used to feel Star Trek was always preaching. And alot of time it was. It was addressing some of the social issues of its day. (Black and white kissing; two half white and half black men fighting because they were white and black on the opposite sides...etc)

I think Roddenbery felt compelled to change culture, and was like Norman Lear, in that he couldn't write something without putting his values in it. So, in effect, in modern fantasy, if you look closely, you will often see some kind of message.

I tend to love fairy tales and mythology, where a "moral of the story" is the norm, and not the exception. But you had great interesting stories, and the moral was somehow intertwined. It was graceful.

Nateskate
07-11-2005, 09:03 PM
I don't think theme has to be hammered home, stamped out, or preachy. Consider worldbuilding for example - if you are portraying a society, the differences between it and today's society and whether you present these differences as causing the characters happiness or suffering will imply/reveal some of your thoughts about what society ought to be like and what's good for people. In many famous science fiction novels like The Handmaid's Tale and The Left Hand of Darkness the worldbuilding was deliberately built to convey these sort of thoughts - are they preachy?

You find people on either extremes. I know Tolkien's convictions came through his stories to some degree, but he was intending to write a mythology, and not preach. However, the core of his story is not about usurping power, but seeking immortality, in which his perspective is very much a part of the story. You have a fall of the Valar, a fall of mankind, which includes Elves, and a hint of a future redemption. That could be seen as preachy. However, it is all contextual, so it never seems preachy.

In the Silmarillion, the light of the two trees was somewhat of a divine light. And he felt the Sun and the Moon were essentially defective, and lesser lights of a fallen world, necessary because of the fall. But if you delve further, you'll see references to Illuvatar's plan, and the Flame Imperishable. It's as deep as people want to go, because it is deep period.

Yet, there is no religion in Hobbiton, and in fact, I think according to Tolkien's letters, they really weren't religious period.

Jamesaritchie
07-13-2005, 08:03 AM
In the absolutewrite chat the other evening, I was surprised to hear that rather than intentionally building a book to teach some moral lessons, as I've always thought it was supposed to be done, some people deliberately try to avoid this. So now I'm curious: If you do put a thematic message in your writing, what message and why? If you don't, why not?


My WIP is basically about how to seek and obtain happiness in one's life, through friendship, passion, commitment, and family. Also that civilization is created as an emergent feature of creating a balanced interdependant group of different types of people.

A secondary theme seems to be emerging that men and women ought to be regarded as completely equal and sex should not have anything to do with reproduction, which should instead be based on two people having a bond of love such that each completely likes and respects the other and consequently they want to create a child who is a mix of them both.

I think the danger in starting with theme/message is that doing so can overpower story and characters. Readers don't buy novels looking for a message, but for an entertaining story filled with good characters.

Any good story has a theme built in, but a good theme doesn't necessarily have a good story, and can overshadow the best of stories.

I don;t think good fiction is about messages. As a famous director once said, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union."

It always seemed to me that good writing means holding up a mirror so society can see itself as it really is. They can then decide for themselves whether or not the way they are is good or bad, and make changes, or not, accordingly.

In other words, you don't write a novel that says "We should all get along," you write a novel that simply shows the truth about how different people and groups interact in real life, and let readers form their own messages and truths.

Yu just show teh world a sit really is, and tell a good story in the process. If you do this, theme will come out of story, rather than story out of theme.

azbikergirl
07-13-2005, 09:23 AM
I like having a point to my story. I don't intentionally write a theme into them, but I do write toward a premise. It doesn't necessarily reflect my personal belief, either. For the novel I'm currently shopping around, the premise is, "A promise made to a king shall transcend death." Then I write a story to prove the statement true.

Barb
07-13-2005, 04:34 PM
I don't start a project with a certain theme in mind. When I start, I do it with characters, setting, a story question and - hopefully - some plot points and the ending in mind.

The themes enter the story while it is being written. There are themes that tend to reappear in my writing: friendship and familiy. loyalty and treason for example.

Upon revising, I do think about themes and wether to cut, change or insert a scene to bring the theme out more clearly. But the important part there is to weave the story together as a whole, not to make the story into a sermon with a "and the morale of the story is... ". That is just not the kind of writing I enjoy to read or to write.

If I did my job well, the reader will find these themes and apply it to his or her own life. If not, then no amount of preaching will get "the message across".

whitehound
07-14-2005, 03:24 AM
I used to feel Star Trek was always preaching. And alot of time it was. It was addressing some of the social issues of its day. (Black and white kissing; two half white and half black men fighting because they were white and black on the opposite sides...etc) That one just annoyed me so much, because it was so lazy - it so easily could have been a believable piece of SF which just happened to have a moral attached, but instead they couldn't be bothered to even try to make it realistic, and just presented it as a blatant bit of propaganda.

All they had to do to make the whole thing believable would have been to give the two races some sort of camouflage patterm, one white with black stripes or spots, the other black with white stripes or spots. That would have made perfectly sound evolutionary sense - but half black and hald white divided down the middle? Puh-leeze - what are we supposed to think, that they evolved walking round and round a hill like the mythical haggis-beast, with the sun always on one side and shadow on the other, so that they evolved vertical counter-shading?

Pthom
07-14-2005, 04:15 AM
Puh-leeze - what are we supposed to think, that they evolved walking round and round a hill like the mythical haggis-beast, with the sun always on one side and shadow on the other, so that they evolved vertical counter-shading?... they had the harlequin gene.

DaveKuzminski
07-14-2005, 06:57 AM
Basically, I believe they were trying to make social comment on society as it was then while still being entertaining. There were a lot of programs doing that in the 60s and 70s. Some still do, but with a bit more finesse.

DragonHeart
07-14-2005, 04:22 PM
If you do put a thematic message in your writing, what message and why? If you don't, why not?

I don't intentionally put one in my writing, nor do I intentionally avoid it. Any themes and/or morals that end up in my writing wrote themselves in without my consent. I don't think about how my writing will impact someone, I just put BIC and type. I find that thinking too much about what I'm writing results in it being crap, so I don't try to steer it in any particular direction.

~DragonHeart~

whitehound
07-15-2005, 02:47 AM
... they had the harlequin gene.Mmm - but in that case surely the handedness of the markings would be random within any given family - you wouldn't get whole lines with the coloured patch only on one side.

I suppose it's just about possible that an alien race might have colour-genes which distinguished left from right - if they were maybe not so bilaterally symmetrical as us. But you *know* they didn't think of that :)


Basically, I believe they were trying to make social comment on society as it was then while still being entertaining. Sure - but they gave up all pretence at being an SF show, when 10 seconds' thought an an extra half-hour in makeup could have preserved the SF element without diluting the social comment.

DaveKuzminski
07-15-2005, 02:52 AM
And they were trying to reach the lowest common denominator in all likelihood at the same time as well as contain expenses.

Christine N.
07-15-2005, 04:33 AM
Whoo, do I feel better. The first book I wrote (see below) has a definate theme. The character learns to find strength and courage inside herself. But it's a pretty character driven book. The last two books I've written (currently submitted and the WIP) are the first two in a series, and I think mostly plot-driven, so I don't seem to have a "theme" - the stories are just good adventures. If a theme emerges, I don't put it there.

I say I feel better b/c I was worried about not having a theme. The characters don't really discover anything new about themselves, except that their friendship is made stronger. They've been through this really weird, tough experience and now they have to keep a secret. I guess it does kind of have a theme, but it's not like some big revelation, it's more gradual.

Pthom
07-15-2005, 05:09 AM
... if they were maybe not so bilaterally symmetrical as us. But you *know* they didn't think of that :)heh. "They" didn't think of a lot of things. But Larry Niven did, with his "moties (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/sim-explorer/explore-items/-/0671741926/0/101/1/none/purchase/ref%3Dpd%5Fsxp%5Fr0/103-0471170-0185422)."

Nateskate
07-15-2005, 04:40 PM
That one just annoyed me so much, because it was so lazy - it so easily could have been a believable piece of SF which just happened to have a moral attached, but instead they couldn't be bothered to even try to make it realistic, and just presented it as a blatant bit of propaganda.

All they had to do to make the whole thing believable would have been to give the two races some sort of camouflage patterm, one white with black stripes or spots, the other black with white stripes or spots. That would have made perfectly sound evolutionary sense - but half black and hald white divided down the middle? Puh-leeze - what are we supposed to think, that they evolved walking round and round a hill like the mythical haggis-beast, with the sun always on one side and shadow on the other, so that they evolved vertical counter-shading?

I think it was sloppy as well. The paint job was horrible. But my guess was that it was meant to be overt. His point was pretty much the notion that we shouldn't judge others by the color of skin, and how moronic prejudice can be. I don't think scientific accuracy was a primary thought.

sassandgroove
07-15-2005, 11:19 PM
How are you defining theme?

Whether a story is plot driven or chracter driven, wouldn't it still have a theme?

In my own writing, I was meandering listlessly, going down wrong path after wrong path until I gave into the novel writing book I had and defined the theme. I don't think the setting matters. To me, the theme is the core of the story, and the rest is the framework it is built on, whether it be a western, scifi, fantasy, chicklit, romance whatever. If you have a great setting, great characters and they don't learn, don't grow or have a goal, what is the point?

sassandgroove
07-15-2005, 11:42 PM
I didn't answer the question...

Mine is vague overall because I answered it for each character. I ask what is the point of having that character, if there isn't one, I ask myself if I need that character. I have since combined a few into one. Off subject again.

My theme is the search for a place in the universe, the search for a reason for being. A reader may or may not pick up on that, but it helps me to know it.

preyer
07-16-2005, 05:30 PM
the point of not having a conscious theme would be just to entertain. 'theme' can be somewhat of a rather vague definition, i've found, often easily confused with plot. what you do mostly with a theme is say, 'i know something and i'm going to illustrate that for you now.' that 'knowing' may be something the reader doesn't agree with, so, for instance, if your theme is 'you have to have religion to be a good person,' don't expect me to buy five copies, lol. a lot of themes are just so vague or obvious as to not merit any particular, in-depth processes. 'friendship is good'... no kidding? really? wow. how profound. come up with that all by yourself, did ya? lol. i don't mean to pick on anyone, i'm just saying that's pretty lame, which most themes are. were there a list of the most obvious things in the universe and truisms even a five year knows about, i'm sure plenty of people would use those as themes for a story, if not a career.

a lot of themes are just personal opinion. 'A secondary theme seems to be emerging that men and women ought to be regarded as completely equal and sex should not have anything to do with reproduction, which should instead be based on two people having a bond of love such that each completely likes and respects the other and consequently they want to create a child who is a mix of them both.' sorry, s&s, that's hippie crap to me with no basis in reality whatsoever. i'm not saying it's bad or wrong, per se, just it's bad and wrong to me. it smacks of preachiness, almost. don't feel bad, though, i was just using that as a convenient example of pawning off the author's personal philosophy as a theme, which, for me, needs to more along the lines of truism-based reality. (don't get me wrong, s&s, i'm not attacking you, just the idea of using stories as a platform for one's personal propaganda is and always has been a repulsive practice to me, one which flourishes, so i'm clearly in the wrong here if you believe in the statistics.)

i just don't agree with a lot of people's 'themes' any more than i agree with their philosophy or politics. using opinion as a theme will probably be the fastest way to a niche market you could hope for. author's supporting their opinons, er, themes often only present those contrived facts and situations to support their own opinion. that is, a lot of authors aren't objective enough *not* to be spouting their ideals at every turn given the chance.

i get enough flak from spouting my opinion on MB's. imagine if i wrote an entire book like that, but with my ideals subtley hidden, lol. that's why i don't start off with specific themes in mind. it helps that i don't have to, either. if, in the course of writing it, one becomes apparent to me, i'll consider what it means in relation to the story and go from there, but i generally know what's going on before i get to writing so realizing a theme usually has little if any influence. then again, i don't sit down and plot which archetypes i use, that's just as awful for me.

of course, it's easy to get wrong what the writer intended. i had a star wars fan-fic up that someone reading could confuse with having all sorts of themes, but that's so not the case. the guy sacrificing himself for his wife and family wasn't a theme (which is really a plot point anyway), but just what the guy did based on his character. the protag was a stormtrooper, even, which wasn't even an 'evil isn't always as evil as it's perceived' thing. i just thought it would be cool, that's all. one of my high school teachers read themes into every third sentence. after awhile he just sounded ridiculous.

i suppose there's a lot of success to be had at jumping into a story theme first, though i think there should be some caveats to be aware of. for me, that's writing by numbers. *that's* when i ask 'what's the point?'

whitehound
07-17-2005, 03:07 AM
I'm just writing about what happens when mutually slightly alien world-views interact, and just about the people and the species and the ecosystem and the war and the illegal gold-mines and everything :)

But there is a recurring back-theme, which is that one should remember that people who are ill or injured or abused are still independent people, with their own personal agendas, who may refuse altogether to go along with the "pathetically grateful" scenario their rescuers may have been expecting.

sunandshadow
07-17-2005, 03:12 AM
Personally I don't believe in the existence of "just entertainment". If it doesn't have a message it's not art, it's not meaningful, I'm not going to learn anything, and I'm not interested in wasting my time. I would consider a story which was truly without a theme to be soulless. But, I also believe a writer's subconscious will put themes in a story even if the writer doesn't consciously do so. Honestly I don't know how you would get inspired to write a story without a theme - I get inspired when I wake up from a dream where my subconscious (aka the Muse) is telling me, "Hey! This issue is important! You better write a story about it so you can figure out why!" If some idea really 'bothers' you enough to make you write a story about it, it's probably because the idea represents some thematic meaning that you are concerned about.

It puzzles me to see conveying a theme to be considered antagonistic to telling a story, because to me, the exploration of the theme IS the story - if you don't have a theme, how do you tell when the story begins or ends?

Think about the climaxes of various novels - if the bad guy dies, this is the conclusion of the thematic argument because it represents the defeat of the bad guy's 'wrong' morals. If, as in my WIP, the climax results in a change in the nature of some big thing, this is the conclusion of an argument about whether and how the thing ought to change, and possibly also what methods can and should be used to cause a desired change.

Then there's the conclusion, which is all about people getting their 'just desserts'. By authorial fiat, we can declare that the dishonest character gets caught, the innocent character gets protected from the big bad guy, and the hero gets the girl; or if we're more cynical, we can give the villain the girl, have the hero be protected by his unshakeable narcissism, and the innocent get caught in the crossfire. Either way, when you decide how a story ends you are presenting a moral judgement on the characters in your story, their goals, the methods they use to pursue those goals, and the way the world works.

Well, probably other people think about it completely differently. ;) But to me the theme is the purpose of a story, the reason I have to write that story rather than some other one, and the way I know where the story begins and ends.

preyer
07-17-2005, 04:11 AM
no one's saying it's wrong to have a theme. but, come on, that the bad guy bites it in the end as proof of a theme's absolute need to be? bad guys get their come-uppance because that's the way people want it. what may be referred to as a 'romantic theme' in a book is just romance. why use romance? because people like seeing the hero hook up with the damsel in distress (or, more politically correctly if not as historically accurate, the fiery irish woman who attains all her hopes and dreams in 1860's new york).

i get the impression that what you think of as thematic elements someone like me takes for granted as a matter-of-course given that it fits the story. not having the solution to anyone's great problems, all i can do is offer an opinion. hopefully an entertaining one if i go that route. but, i don't think people wants to read a 400 page opinion, and i really don't feel the need to change someone's life as were mine a shining example of how it should be lived. that's not saying everything i write has no merit whatsoever, i just don't consciously decide which issue i can pretend to resolve. i reckon if people wanted that they could read a philosophy or political book and derive much more than i could manage to infuse in a story. using characters as subterfuge to tout my opinions is nothing more than clever deception, and not the good kind where the woman says, 'no, you *do* have a big yonk. seriously, i wouldn't lie to you.' i'm willing to believe that as long as she believes, 'sure, baby, i'll still respect you in the morning. love you forever? sure, why not. what's your name again?'

i don't know, i'm not quite sure any of my endings are moral judgements on the how and why's, thus and therefore's of the story as much as they're meant to satisfy the audience (i.e., me) and let's there be a conclusion that makes sense. a conclusion based on simply the moral judgementalism of my viewpoints would be weak. often i kill characters that should 'morally' get everything they ever wanted. sometimes i write things that aren't fair to any character. at best, i call it realism. i don't roll out of bed around 1 p.m. and say to myself, 'today's theme is...,' as much as try to remember what i've got planned and such. i sleep sound if i get everything done, just like the conclusion of a book is good if i get all the chores of arriving at the end are satisfied.

i've written and read enough to know pretty much what needs to be done in a book. heart and personality creates a soul, which in turn creates a theme for me. i don't think it's anything you can learn out of a book on how to write great literature.

again, few of us strive for great literature. most of are happy just to write good stories. i suppose if i set out to write the next great american novel i'd approach it differently, though that's not my goal. i guess what some people attribute to an analytical 'theme' is what i call telling a story in obvious ways. :)

sunandshadow
07-17-2005, 07:43 AM
no one's saying it's wrong to have a theme. but, come on, that the bad guy bites it in the end as proof of a theme's absolute need to be? bad guys get their come-uppance because that's the way people want it.
And people want it that way because they think that's morally right and just.

whitehound
07-17-2005, 12:05 PM
"The good end happily and the bad unhappily - that is what fiction means" as Oscar Wilde said. But I don't think it's quite as blatant/simple as that.

IMO, the reason is that most stories are told from the p.o.v. of the "good" guys, and therefore readers want the good guy to triumph because they are identifying with that character, and if the person they are identifying with ends unhappily that makes them vicariously unhappy.

On the other hand, the reason most stories are set up to encourage the readers to identify with the good guys is because most people are fairly decent, or at least aspire to be, and they would feel uncomfortable identifying with someone blatantly vicious. So there is a moral component to it - but not necessarily an overt moral theme.

I don't know how it is in the US, but here in the UK stories which have a moral theme which is too obvious and too uncomplicated are liable to be ridiculed. Of course the Harry Potter books have a definite and positive moral theme and are as stunningly popular here as they are elsewhere: but it's a complex morality involving a society which has been corrupted by the need to protect itself from threat, until it is nearly as bad as the thing it fears.

sunandshadow
07-20-2005, 11:20 PM
Somebody mentioned that Holly Lisle has a free writing advice book avaiable for download in the nove writing forum today, so I got it and by chance found a quote which explains beautifully why I think theme is a vital ingredient of a great book:

Because there are some books that are about more than story, character, plot. There are some books that not only give you a good read for the money, but that reach inside of you and grab your heart and your soul, and twist. Theodore Sturgeon wrote several, though the one that comes immediately to my mind is Godbody. It was about... ah. It was about both the pain and the transcendence of being human. It was about love that encompassed all of life, that changed everything it touched, that transformed. It was a magical book, and it was magical because Ted Sturgeon was not afraid to rip his heart out of his body and type it onto the page where you and I and everyone could read it. He imbued Godbody with not just a story, but with a spirit, and if you can read the book and not be touched – ennobled – transformed by it, I wonder at your species.

[...]the thing that keeps me happy as I write is not the hope of a big payoff but the hope that somehow I will someday manage to reach inside the hearts of my readers, as Ted Sturgeon reached inside of my heart, and twist. And that those readers will say, as I said, 'Oh. I understand more now. I'm more complete now. And I want to give back.'

DaveKuzminski
07-21-2005, 12:01 AM
Well, I'm obviously going about it all wrong in my current work in progress since I am deliberately leaving threads unresolved and letting bad guys get away with murder and such.

Why? Because life isn't always neat. It doesn't always resolve in ways we want. Some things never are resolved. Justice doesn't always get delivered.

I just hope readers like the results.

maestrowork
07-21-2005, 12:22 AM
Well, I'm obviously going about it all wrong in my current work in progress since I am deliberately leaving threads unresolved and letting bad guys get away with murder and such.

Why? Because life isn't always neat. It doesn't always resolve in ways we want. Some things never are resolved. Justice doesn't always get delivered.

I just hope readers like the results.

Hate to be a sourpus but fiction is not life. If you leave the ending unresolved, or the bad guy gets away with murder, you risk alienating the readers. It's not to say you have to tie every loosen end with a tidy bow and everyone has to live happily ever after. But there has to be a satisfying ending (unlike life) that the readers can root for.

Even when the bad guy does get away with murder (e.g. Hannibal Lecter), there has to be something satisfying. In fact, some people would argue that Lecter IS the protagonist, even though he's bad and mean, we root for him and we're actually glad that he escapes and lives!

Or in the case of a truly sadistic ending (any slasher film buff here?) there still must be something that satisfy the readers. In horror, perhaps it is satisfying to see people getting gruesome deaths... or a lesson learned? Some testimony to the human condition? Take the movie Se7en for example -- it ends bad, but you understand why it ends that way, and you learn something. It means something to the audience.

sunandshadow
07-21-2005, 12:40 AM
Absolutely, fiction is not life. It's that difference between realism (overzealous pursuit of which can cripple the writer's imagination and the resulting fiction) and versimilitude (which we must have for disbelief suspension). Life doesn't have a plot, or aristotelian unity - fiction does. Life stresses readers out, depresses, frustrates, or bores them, and they turn to fiction for something different, something better.

There's a book by Simon O. Lesser titled Fiction and the Unconscious which says reading is a form of playing, a stage for experimenting with different identities, philosophies, and social roles. He writes, "While fiction alters the facts of experience, a fundamental purpose of those alterations … is the achievement of an imaginary world more lifelike than life itself, more directly and honestly concerned with essential problems, more supple in its expression of every aspect of man’s nature, less burdened by distracting irrelevancies."

Tirjasdyn
07-21-2005, 01:20 AM
Even when the bad guy does get away with murder (e.g. Hannibal Lecter), there has to be something satisfying. In fact, some people would argue that Lecter IS the protagonist, even though he's bad and mean, we root for him and we're actually glad that he escapes and lives!


The latest Harry Potter is a good example.

But as I posted before. Concious lessons rarely look less than overexposed brow beating. Besides then the lit critters get a hold of it and give all the meaning in the world, author intentions, not withstanding. Lit critters are great for mountains out of molehiles. Just get the story down...others will find meaning and lessons you never even thought off.

l.stormgaye
07-21-2005, 01:23 AM
I have a theme to everything I write: IT'D BETTER SELL!

loquax
07-21-2005, 02:13 AM
The theme of my WIP is mankind's insatiable lust for knowledge. One day I thought "Why did they spend millions of dollars getting to the moon? Couldn't that money have gone towards something much more practical?"

I thought I would investigate.

DaveKuzminski
07-21-2005, 03:53 AM
Ah, but I stated threads, not the main story. There is still plenty for readers to be happy about, but some of the minor threads are left unresolved because not everything should come together in a nice, neat conclusion at the end of the book.


Besides, those are so handy later for sequels. ;)

Yes, I'm devious. ;)

maestrowork
07-21-2005, 04:54 AM
some of the minor threads are left unresolved because not everything should come together in a nice, neat conclusion at the end of the book.

That I agree.

preyer
07-21-2005, 02:03 PM
anyone who approaches a story with a theme in mind, please have a realistic theme. by that i mean don't have your opinion as represented in your theme be something that isn't true or doesn't stand up to investigation or even casual scrutiny. if the theme is to be some life-altering experience for the reader, make sure it's not ridiculous.

i'm not particularly good at picking out themes in other people's stories. if you haven't conveyed it clearly, why should i? when i read a review (or at least to read reviews), sometimes i'd come across the critic's view of the theme and show how it fictionally mirrored real-life events, which to me is less of a theme than it is the author relying on someone else (in this case actual history) telling their story for them and just changing a few things around, know what i mean? if you're a third reich historian and want to use that as some kind of theme, changing the setting to space isn't going to necessarily cover-up a lack of imaginative story-telling, all 'how-so-and-so-got-to-be-this-way' truisms aside. like the saying goes, 'there's more than one way to skin a cat.'

for every pro theme piece of fluff someone can find, i can find one that says don't worry about it. in the end, i advise people to do what they feel is right and not worry about what some jerkass like myself or stephen king says. it's just too easy to find support for *any* position for there to be a need to search out reasons why you should believe in what you already believe in. why bother reading fifty thousand writers' opinion on what fiction is and/or isn't just to find a quote, especially when the determining factor seems to be that that guy is published and i'm not, so by virtue of being published they know more than me when it comes to subjective matters.

it's been my experience over the years that, in general, experienced writers often don't use a theme as a tremendously governing force in their story. some do, of course, and i'm not suggesting an overwhelming amount of professional authors think themes are a stupid waste of time, just that themes are one facet, if that and often at best.

i've found writers, oops, i mean self-professed 'authors' (what a pretentious lot of hacks they are) who are really hep on theme and just can't fanthom writing without one. that's fine, i guess, whatever, but i've noticed that these guys, and i'm not slamming the quality of their work or the type of people they are, are more often than not rather inexperienced and the sort of writer who attends writing seminars and belong to workships and read a lot of how-to's. i myself took a creative writing course in a community college once, which was a complete joke. and it's a good thing to have feedback.

at the same time, i think there's some sort of this pressure by these courses to write in a, ah, 'rote' type of way. i never get the feeling after talking to these guys who attend weekly workshops that they ever have much confidence in their writing and can't figure out why their stories are no better than mine. the ones i've dealt with seem afraid that if their writing group can't find a theme in the story then it's a failure on some level. i can envision a listener ask the writer, 'i loved the story, but what was the theme?'

am i gifted? oh, hell, no, lol. i'm just confident that if i'm entertained by it, so will someone else. it helps to know the method and choose not to follow it than knowing the method and following it because you feel it's the only way to write an effective story. were that true, we'd all be at the same place.

again, not saying themes are wrong. how could i? who the helll am i? nobody. by the same token, anyone who says conscious themes at the beginning of a book is absolutely necessary to writing a good book is full of crap. and i'm sure i could find enough quotes to prove it. :)

zornhau
07-21-2005, 04:00 PM
My theme: The superiority of the German Longsword School.

sunandshadow
07-21-2005, 06:24 PM
Possibly themes are less used by experienced writers because some years they have run out of themes they want to write about. They've already done a book on the theme they are most concerned about and a new one hasn't occurred to them yet. This seems to be the case for Christine N. earlier in the thread.

victoriastrauss
07-22-2005, 12:21 AM
it's been my experience over the years that, in general, experienced writers often don't use a theme as a tremendously governing force in their story.My writing is strongly theme-driven--the theme is always where I start (a different theme for each book, though I do have certain basic interests and concerns that seem to run through all my work). Then again, you can judge from my non-prominence in my genre just how much readers seem to like that sort of thing.

- Victoria

sunandshadow
07-22-2005, 12:28 AM
Victoria, I was just looking at your website - do any of your books have happy endings? That makes a big difference in sales/popularity.

preyer
07-22-2005, 01:42 AM
if it's an epic story, i have no qualms killing off my characters in the end as long as i feel it's satisfying. i've started one story off with the line, 'the first time i died...,' just to get it out of the way, lol. there are no themes behind it, rather than it happening as a natural conclusion. it's never once occurred to me to approach a story with the idea of, 'the futulity of virtue leads to righteous death,' or something like that, or 'a good deed never goes unpunished.' now, to illustrate that last thing, if it can be considered a theme, i'd probably take a comedic bent on it as to not be completely depressing.

that's not generally how i write a story, finding a theme and trying to work around it. what happens to me when i do that may be what happens to a lot of others, the theme makes the story sound contrived. a theme is something you have to stick to to keep it 'true,' too, which, for me, is 'creatively' inhibiting.

VS, can i make a guess and say that since you start off with a theme in mind, you also write in a linear fashion and work from an outline? again, nothing wrong with that, but since theme alluded heavily to making up some kind of structure before writing commences, i'd reckon it stands to reason that writers of that 'school' have certain attributes and traits, too. take me for example: since i write in fragments, it can't be too surprizing that themes don't play much of a part in my method, eh? (cue the one person in a hundred who writes in a fragmented way but heavily dependant on themes, lol.)

whitehound
07-22-2005, 03:31 AM
The latest Harry Potter is a good example.I think we're going to find out that the *good* guy escaped and lived - but I'm not sure whether this is the right place to explain why.

Tirjasdyn
07-22-2005, 07:51 PM
I think we're going to find out that the *good* guy escaped and lived - but I'm not sure whether this is the right place to explain why.

I agree on all points.

But should we really be concentrating on hurting the hero, after all that's what makes the story interesting regardless of theme.

Writer's are socially condoned torturers.

sunandshadow
07-23-2005, 01:37 AM
Wouldn't "challenging the hero" be a better way of phrasing that than "hurting the hero"? I mean, you created him, you know all his weak points, you could drive him to suicide or catatonia if you really wanted to, but readers generally like to see heros survive what you throw at them and learn from it, grow as a person... right? That's why I'm always baffled when people give the advice of "Think of the worst think that could possibly happen to your protagonist, then make it happen." If I'm writing a romantic comedy, the worst possible thing is probably way darker than I'm aiming for. Like, you can't kill the heroine, you can't kill her true love, you probably want to avoid rape and bloody sacrifices to the devil, etc. Instead you want to stick the characters into ironic, embarrassing, or outrageous situations, have them torn by internal dilemmas, ambushed by inconvenient accidents, and that sort of thing.

victoriastrauss
07-23-2005, 02:23 AM
Victoria, I was just looking at your website - do any of your books have happy endings? That makes a big difference in sales/popularity.Happy endings are important in some genres--category romance, for instance, requires a happy ending. Readers of other genres are more tolerant of unhappy or bittersweet endings--look at Phillip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass. Or Elizabeth George's mysteries. Or Ruth Rendell's books. To answer your question, though--my books tend to have bittersweet endings, in which something has been gained, but much also has been lost.

- Victoria

victoriastrauss
07-23-2005, 02:34 AM
VS, can i make a guess and say that since you start off with a theme in mind, you also write in a linear fashion and work from an outline?You're right--I do write in linear fashion, and I do create an outline ahead of time (actually a detailed synopsis). However, the synopsis is more a way for me to be sure I can get from start to finish in some fashion, rather than a blueprint to be followed no matter what. I don't refer to the synopsis as I'm writing, and the finished book always differs from the original plan--sometimes significantly. For the book I just finished, the ending I wound up with was quite different from the one I originally envisioned. So the synopsis gives me structure to start out with, but I also discover the story as I'm writing and feel free to follow where it leads. For me, this is the best compromise between discipline (which I dislike) and inspiration (which leads me down too many irrelevant alleyways and dead ends).

- Victoria

preyer
07-23-2005, 02:58 AM
sure, in a romantic comedy, the worst your hero will probably face is loneliness then the threat of losing the person she loved. maybe not probably, but i think that's the underlying thread connecting most of them together. just romance, though, and devil worship and rape has been done aplenty. not every third novel, but enough.

in SF/F, though, you have to create a challenge for the heroes, and that challenge has to be worthy enough to overcome, which most people think is 'throw the worst at 'em and see how they do'. i think that's why there are so many LOTR/ultimate evil villian types written. i mean, what's worst than facing the devil? in the meat of the story we learn why these heroes are worthy by proving time and again that integrity is what you do in the dark, among other virtues needed to slay the enemy/send him back to hell/defeat the black horde/whatever.

that said, i think most writers tend to infuse their drama with the worst-case scenario. that's fine as long as there's a purpose to it, not just always purely titillating (which is okay to a certain degree). minour inconveniences just don't provide enough learning potential to wipe up the floor with the bad guys. long, arduous treks, on the other hand, actually do break people down mentally and brings whatever issues they have right to the surface, so there's a point to it, albeit belaboured to cliche. i think where some writers fail is extracting the drama out of common situations instead of a constant stream of attacks by clever beasts/nymphs/bug aliens/whatever doing or planning horrible things.

one good thing about LOTR is that along the way you witness various facets of good and evil. now, i think this is an important point. dwarves aren't just characters, they're representations, like elves, mankind, e.t.'s, orcs, what have you, of some aspect of good and evil. some writers confuse this with characteritures (bah, confounded word that!) and especially character traits, as if all elves live in the forest and have this spock-like attitude, are waif-thin and can hit the eye of a gnat from a million yards out. but, a lot of writers don't understand what elves *represent*, what facet of good they are. sure, it can be faked if you get some of the traits right, though there's not much depth there.

SF is different, i think in most part, because these facets tend to surface in a smaller amount of characters. somehow, though, SF to me seems to have the least amount of characterization to make their characters great, when by rights they *should* be great. it's as if a lot of SF writers have no humanity about them to instill into their characters. maybe because SF/F is ambiguously thematic in nature, some writers feel they can rely on that and 'archetypes' without having to 'create' 'new' characters, i don't know. thinking you have to have a villian and just sticking a random one in just seems rather random-- what *kind* of villian is it representing *what* facet of evil?

some facets work better with others. only frodo can face sauron. where it an orc fordo was ultimately to dispatch, who'd care? the most capable the hero from the outset the less capable villian until you reach the middle and an even match. 'even matches' are their own stripe of story, though. notice how if you have an experienced hero who has to fight the ultimate villian that almost invariably the hero has to pick up an experienced person along the way? or if you've got two relatively experienced heroes, you wind up writing 'constantine,' which really lacks an edge to me. nothing you could do with the story or the characters could have worked for me, it just sucked because the facets were off balance. :)

azbikergirl
07-23-2005, 03:07 AM
Wouldn't "challenging the hero" be a better way of phrasing that than "hurting the hero"? ... That's why I'm always baffled when people give the advice of "Think of the worst think that could possibly happen to your protagonist, then make it happen."

When I think of the worst things to do to my characters, no, I don't pull off their arms and legs and make them catatonic, blind and deaf. That'd be a tad much, eh? What I mean, personally, is think of the worst thing that can happen with respect to the MC's goal and make it happen. We gotta keep it real. I don't think that advice means to literally beat the character into the ground and take away his will to live. Sheesh!

sunandshadow
07-23-2005, 03:54 AM
sure, in a romantic comedy, the worst your hero will probably face is loneliness then the threat of losing the person she loved. maybe not probably, but i think that's the underlying thread connecting most of them together. just romance, though, and devil worship and rape has been done aplenty. not every third novel, but enough.

in SF/F, though, you have to create a challenge for the heroes, and that challenge has to be worthy enough to overcome, which most people think is 'throw the worst at 'em and see how they do'.

Sff is not inherently different from romantic comedy - my WIP is a fantasy romance. In both romances and sff novels there should be a challenge worthy and appropriate for the hero and/or heroine to overcome, which might be a villain or might not. Whether the hero gets tortured has little to do with the genre, and more to do with whether the author wants to portray a theme (lol here we are back at theme again) of sacrifice or tragedy or tenacity and survival or something like that.

sunandshadow
07-23-2005, 03:56 AM
When I think of the worst things to do to my characters, no, I don't pull off their arms and legs and make them catatonic, blind and deaf. That'd be a tad much, eh? What I mean, personally, is think of the worst thing that can happen with respect to the MC's goal and make it happen. We gotta keep it real. I don't think that advice means to literally beat the character into the ground and take away his will to live. Sheesh!

Ah, ok good. :) "With respect to the MC's goal." And even at that it can't be the absolute worst thing, because the worst thing would make the goal unachievable; it should be the thing which makes it the most tricky to achieve the goal, yes?

azbikergirl
07-23-2005, 04:28 AM
Heh. True, that. :) But, if the goal seems unachievable, if the character is really put between a rock and a hard place, it'll foce both writer and character to find creative solutions.

Tirjasdyn
07-23-2005, 05:24 AM
Wouldn't "challenging the hero" be a better way of phrasing that than "hurting the hero"? I mean, you created him, you know all his weak points, you could drive him to suicide or catatonia if you really wanted to, but readers generally like to see heros survive what you throw at them and learn from it, grow as a person... right? That's why I'm always baffled when people give the advice of "Think of the worst think that could possibly happen to your protagonist, then make it happen." If I'm writing a romantic comedy, the worst possible thing is probably way darker than I'm aiming for. Like, you can't kill the heroine, you can't kill her true love, you probably want to avoid rape and bloody sacrifices to the devil, etc. Instead you want to stick the characters into ironic, embarrassing, or outrageous situations, have them torn by internal dilemmas, ambushed by inconvenient accidents, and that sort of thing.

Nope I mean hurt. And yes exactly what you said. Put yourself in their situations..it hurts: relationships, life, even bill worries. Perhaps a better phrase is Think of the worst thing that can happen in that situation and make it happen. Pain, whether emotional or physical, is interesing. Watch Say Anything or read old Julie Garwood books and tell me they are not in pain.

Pain doesn't have to leave visable scars, or even be violent. But it is life.

preyer
07-23-2005, 11:07 PM
pardon my ignorance, but how is SF/F and romantic comedy alike, again?

sunandshadow
07-24-2005, 02:17 AM
It's not that they're alike, it's that they can overlap. Comparing romantic comedy and sff is comparing apples and oranges, because romantic comedy describes atmosphere and subject matter (i.e. love), while sff describes setting and tropes. So it's perfectly possible to have a book like my WIP which is a comedic fantasy romance. While romantic comedy sff novels are fairly rare, there are many famous comedy sff books like those by Pratchett and Asprin, and a growing number of sff romances like those by Asaro.

In your previous post you seemed to be implying that sff novels all have epic dramatic plots, as opposed to romance or comedy plots, which isn't the case at all.

Pthom
07-24-2005, 11:00 AM
I am curious as to how many of you regulars in this forum think Science Fiction and Fantasy are alike enough to be considered a single genre. The previous posts seem to want to compare both sub-genres with others (SF/F to Romance, for example).

Personally, I find that apart from theme, science fiction differs from fantasy, generally. Of course there are those few stories that somehow combine elements of both, but the differences are significant enough to make me want to discuss science fiction OR fantasy as separate genres.

Elsewhere in this forum, the inclusion of magic seems to be enough to make a story fantasy. I doubt most fans of science fiction would accept magic as a main element in a hard SF story (ie: there must be at least an attempt to explain phenomena or events in either scientific or technological terms). Similarly, I suppose that most fans of fantasy have difficulty accepting such explanations of the magic in the story.

And, when it comes to theme, I believe that it's possible to use just about any theme in any story, regardless of genre. Hell, not only possible but done not just a lot, but almost always. So I guess the second part of my question is, "Is there a theme that is peculiar to science fiction or to fantasy but not to both, or for that matter to any other genre?"

alaskamatt17
07-24-2005, 12:54 PM
I used to hate authors that had obvious themes in their books. I'd feel like they were trying to indoctrinate me with their opinion when all I wanted was to read a good story.

Turns out, though, I've found a few books with themes that still have decent stories I can get into. Most of Robert J. Sawyer's books fall into this category (I've become a sort of Robert J. Sawyer advocate: I can't get enough of his writing!) Anyways, the thing that I like about him is that his books express opposing viewpoints as well as his own. He doesn't just say, "I'm right and everyone else is wrong!" He often concedes that he doesn't really know what's right. In his books, there can be many "good" characters all with conflicting--or slightly disagreeing--worldviews.

I guess I just used to read too much YA where the themes were put in plain sight instead of kept in the background where they belong.

So, now that I acknowledge the use of themes as a legitimate storytelling device, what themes do I put in my own writing? Let's see. ...

My most common theme is that dreams are truer than reality. I don't know where I picked up this train of thought, but it always seems to me that my dreams are more "real" than the life I experience while awake. Even the dreams where I'm not myself.

After that, I like the concept that predestination and free choice can be the same thing. You are predestined to choose what you wish. This one can get complicated, so I'll just leave it at that. I express it a lot better by example in fiction.

Other themes: sometimes the "bad guys" win, if life throws you lemons it sucks to be you, it takes luck to succeed. I've only written a handful of short stories and two novels so I haven't really gone through too many themes. But these are the ones I've used so far.

whitehound
07-24-2005, 02:21 PM
Elsewhere in this forum, the inclusion of magic seems to be enough to make a story fantasy. I doubt most fans of science fiction would accept magic as a main element in a hard SF story (ie: there must be at least an attempt to explain phenomena or events in either scientific or technological terms). I have a complex relationship to this question - speaking as a witch with a degree in hard science I regard magic as a physical fact of everyday life. Buit if I were putting it in an SF story I would expect to at least hazard a guess as to how it works. And certainly I would regard any story with the "Gee whizz," point-a-wand, instant dramatic effect sort of magic (as opposed to e.g. doing a drawing spell to encourage someone to get back in contact) as fantasy unless there was a very serious and well-thought-out and feasible-sounding explanation.

There's a certain amount of overlap between SF and fantasy. In the middle are things like Star Wars or the Pern books or some of Harlan Ellison's stuff, but the two ends of the fields are clearly different from each other. The extreme end of pure SF would be something like 2001AD, where the scientific element of the story is not only central but very much its main focus; at the other end something like The Last Unicorn (one of my all-time favourite books btw, despite the fact that I usually prefer SF) where the setting is not only magical but mythological, dreamlike and atmospheric, with no attempt to explain things in mundane terms.

brinkett
07-24-2005, 05:28 PM
I am curious as to how many of you regulars in this forum think Science Fiction and Fantasy are alike enough to be considered a single genre. The previous posts seem to want to compare both sub-genres with others (SF/F to Romance, for example).

I'm a regular lurker so I'll weigh in--I think they're different. I read fantasy. I wouldn't touch SF with a ten foot pole. I've tried over the years, but just can't get into it. Truth be told, I'm picky about what fantasy I read too, but at least I read it. As far as themes go, I don't think there are any themes exclusive to a single genre. To me, any genre can speak to any theme--the genre might influence how the theme is surfaced, that's all.

Can someone give me a good definition of sociological/soft SF? I've read a lot of definitions (including Pthom's) of hard SF. When would a story about an alternate culture fall under soft SF as opposed to mainstream (or perhaps some other genre), for example? (Giving me examples of specific SF books won't help because there's a >99.9% chance I haven't read them)

loquax
07-24-2005, 05:29 PM
I happen to think that sci-fi is a subgenre of fantasy. My definition of fantasy would be "Stuff that doesn't normally happen, and probably never will, but it would be cool if it did, so let's write about it."

preyer
07-24-2005, 08:13 PM
'I am curious as to how many of you regulars in this forum think Science Fiction and Fantasy are alike enough to be considered a single genre. The previous posts seem to want to compare both sub-genres with others (SF/F to Romance, for example).'

PT, you might recall an older thread where i griped about SF and F being lumped together on the same shelf space together. without rehashing that, i think the two are significanly far enough apart to warrant a clear distinction, but from a marketting standpoint they are probably close enough in their fan bases to be hawked in the same vein. after all, even writers of one are probably more apt to write the other than the occasional random writer crossing over from romance to take a stab at hard sci-fi, eh? i think there's a link between the two, but not necessarily any more than an overlap that happens between genres as a matter-or-course. we're so used to seeing the two together that it's a given the two genres are closely akin to one another. but, really, no one would stock a paranormal romance alongside clive barker. that would just be silly. the 'i thought the bartender was sooo cute, but little did i know he was really a werewolf' has no business next to 'the daemon hacked and slashed a bloody swath until he met the Slayer', eh? keep that 'beautiful but lonely reporter falling in love with a vampire' crap where it belongs.

SF and F share a few common bonds that make them tenuously close cousins. SF often envisions a world where anything is possible through technology, F does so with magick.

each genre has its rules, typical settings, and plot points, character profiles, themes, etc., that make them what they are regardless of how many other genres are jammed in. you can write a romantic fantasy, but if you're not following the rules of romance writing, what the hell are you writing? a fantasy? there has to be a predominance of one over the other. equal amounts of both, while probably improbable, can, i'd imagine, assure a directionless mess *no one* will want to read. doubling your theme potential isnt' a good thing necessarily.

i tried reading a little YA just to see what the fuss was about. true, i found themes right in my face, themes that, well, an adult doesn't need to worry about. i mean, what do i care about high school romances anymore or peer pressure or any of that kiddie crap? maybe i happened to pick up the wrong stuff, but it was just too blatant for me. if i want to read about alienation, there's plenty of adult material i can more relate to.

preyer
07-24-2005, 08:15 PM
btw, i'm not slamming cross-genre things, just saying there's a predominance of one over the other, or there should be to avoid any confusion. approaching something like that from a purely thematic stance suggests that the writer is trying too hard to be all things to all people while potentially lessening the effects of their main themes by muddying it with too many lesser themes.

sunandshadow
07-24-2005, 08:56 PM
I was chatting about this with Pthom the other evening, and my statement was that the only significant difference between f and sf is the tropes they use in creating their plot and differences from the real world. I.e. an sf should use plausible futuristic/alien technology/culture while a f should use some form of magic. I read both f and sf, although more sf because it often (but not always) takes a more analytical approach to the world and people, and I like an analytical attitude much better than a mystic or transcendental one. I think that when considering f and sf we should also consider the historical genre, because it is the third genre in the class of milieu novels, the only three genres where worldbuilding is a major factor.

I do not think either f or sf has a characteristic plot structure, cast of character archetypes, or any unique themes. Preyer, I am very curious to know what you think the characteristic plot points, especially, of f and sf are.

As for my WIP, it's plot structure is that of a struggle-between-political-factions historical romance, (like Romeo and Juliet), which is a plot structure commonly found in fsf as well as historical romance.

whitehound
07-24-2005, 10:54 PM
I think that when considering f and sf we should also consider the historical genre, because it is the third genre in the class of milieu novels, the only three genres where worldbuilding is a major factor.That's a good point - in all three the sense of "elsewhere" is paramount, and indeed if you go to British SF conventions you will find that there is a huge overlap between SF fen and historical recreationists, and the crowd at the bar are as likely to be dressed in furs and axes as they are in jump-suits and ray-guns.

Even here, though, there's a certain degree of overlap with other genres. Stories set in the present day but in other cultures may have a certain "elsewhere" sensibility - or books may aquire it with time. I'm thinking of Dorothy L Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels, which when they were written were simply set "now," but which encapsulate their time and place so vividly that one now reads them as a window into the 1920s, as much as as mystery novels.

preyer
07-25-2005, 03:39 AM
depending on what story you're writing there are different templates common to a genre. by that, i mean your epic fantasy ala LOTR will have to have certain things happen, such as being taken into the quest in the beginning and picking up characters or artefacts along the way, not to mention dealing with other cultures (usually elves or dwarves, and by dwarves i mean short, fat elves, lol) and fighting creatures along the way. whether or not someone believes in or likes archetypes, there're there, basically generic representations to build on.

i could go into detail, but there are so many basic storylines it would take too long to list. in short, that Dramatica programme will essentially list them all. were the plotpoints non-existing common denominators, it would be impossible for these programmes to give an outline. simply imposing another genre over another doesn't necessarily mean you get something completely new as much as having to incorporate the two together. not saying it's bad, just a writer should be careful fusing the two together and not bastardizing one theme to try and jam one more in for no particular reason other than to show off.

victoriastrauss
07-25-2005, 06:05 AM
I am curious as to how many of you regulars in this forum think Science Fiction and Fantasy are alike enough to be considered a single genre. I'd like to see them both subsumed under Speculative Fiction.

- Victoria

whitehound
07-25-2005, 06:49 AM
Depends how you define "speculative." As was concluded on an earlier thread, science fiction is based around ideas and worlds which the author, and readers, can imagine actually might really be real, some when and some where, and which generally are based on logical extrapolation from what we think we know about the "real" world.

Fantasy, on the other hand, is based on phantasmagorical ideas which the author does not expect us to see as really feasible.

[Though even here of course there are grey areas: we now think of stories based on Greek mythology as fantasy but to the Ancient Greeks stories of one-eyed giants and warring gods seemed perfectly feasible, and some of their more exotic mythical beasties seem to have been early attempts to reconstruct fossil remains, and were therefore genuine science fiction.]

preyer
07-25-2005, 10:00 AM
true, i wouldn't call fantasy speculative unless the one doing the speculation is a complete liar, lol.

Pthom
07-25-2005, 01:24 PM
I'd like to see them both subsumed under Speculative Fiction. Personally, I'm not for this option. The abbreviation would be SF, which already causes trouble; some think it means Science Fiction, some think it means Science fiction and Fantasy and a few, think of it as you do. I doubt this will be a solution we'll see anytime soon.

I do think of science fiction is speculative, nonetheless, especially those stories that depend on assumptions beyond known physics: Faster-than-light travel or travel through time, matter transporter machines, etc. (Star Trek or Star Wars). Similarly, stories that depend on alternate time lines or alternate universes (Clifford Simak's "Waystation").

I think also that fantasy is speculative. I venture that most of us agree there are no real trolls or dragons or magic wands, but it sure is fun to speculate what the world would be like if there were these things.

Or to speculate what life would be like had Hitler succeeded, or if Genghis Khan had been a tailor instead of a horseman.

Therefore, Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper" is certainly speculative fiction. Is it fantasy? Sure. Is it historical fiction? Yes. What about his "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?" Fantasy, historical fiction? Definitely. Science fiction? Maybe. A modern man--a blacksmith and an inventor--is thrust back in time by several centuries. But perhaps not; it seems the cause of his soul's "transmigration" was a knock on the side of his head by a crowbar. But it is still speculative.

And, with my next statement, I have no doubt preyer will have cause to write a couple pages. I think every work of fiction is speculative and I invite anyone to offer an explanation in opposition. But perhaps not in this thread, or even this forum.

The reason I brought up this topic, however, was in reaction to what seems common in this forum: to lump science fiction and fantasy together when comparing one or the other to another genre. Most common, I think, is the comparison of the fantasy genre to other genres such as Romance or Horror. In fact, most of the discussions here deal primarily with fantasy and not science fiction per se.

whitehound
07-25-2005, 01:41 PM
Except for extreme cases like Mills & Boon, I'm inclined to see romance, horror and indeed comedy as atmospheres or treatments rather than genres - so you can perfectly well have a science fiction comedy romance or a historical horror story.

Tirjasdyn
07-27-2005, 01:07 AM
I'd like to see them both subsumed under Speculative Fiction.

- Victoria

Snort.

All fiction is speculative.

preyer
07-27-2005, 11:24 PM
PT, are you saying i'm long-winded? lol.

i take 'speculative' to mean 'plausibly possible'. other folk will apply it in a more, ah, 'grander' sense. 'speculative fiction' is almost a redundancy, no? well, at least it is more so for sci-fi. i think it's pretty clear that i draw distinctions between even speculative science with at least a basis in *some* theory and magick, even if said magick has some hackneyed scientific basis. so, no, i don't find talking dinosaurs inhabiting cities along with humans in an idyllic fantasy setting anything to do with being plausibly possible any more than i think an ancient creature lives inside a mountain and can talk any more than trees are able to get up and walk. at the same time, i can't say all sci-fi is speculative, either, when some of the elements are too fantastic to be believed. (i recall the star trek episode where the rock thing was protecting its eggs. difference there was the rock-like thing was an organic creature in essense, not put inside a rock by supernatural or magickal means.)

i draw a sharper definition because i think it's there. i don't think it's all as much of a muddy mess subject to huge gaps and bands of gray larger than its neighbours despite a few inconsistencies which doubtfully are the norm as given in a few examples. the definition is this:

speculative
(adjective) 1 : involving, based on, or constituting intellectual speculation; also : theoretical rather than demonstrable < speculative knowledge>; 2 : marked by questioning curiosity <gave him a speculative glance>; 3 : of, relating to, or being a financial speculation < speculative stocks> < speculative venture>

fantasy[1]
(noun) 1 obsolete : HALLUCINATION ; 2 : FANCY ; especially : the free play of creative imagination; 3 : a creation of the imaginative faculty whether expressed or merely conceived: as; a : a fanciful design or invention; b : a chimerical or fantastic notion; c : FANTASIA 1; d : imaginative fiction featuring especially strange settings and grotesque characters -- called also fantasy fiction; 4 : CAPRICE ; 5 : the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need <an object of fantasy> ; also : a mental image or a series of mental images (as a daydream) so created <sexual fantasies of adolescence>; 6 : a coin usually not intended for circulation as currency and often issued by a dubious authority (as a government-in-exile)

with these two aol dictionary definitions, you see 'theoretical' and 'unrealistic.' 'speculative' is theoretical, fantasy (which, if i may, alludes directly to magick) is unrealistic. that's the difference there to me.

'but, preyer, what about writers who try to impose a scientific basis for their magick?' what about it? doing so proves nothing more than the writer trying too hard to convince people magick exists. might as well say there's a machine that makes fairy dust (there's a story in there for anyone who wants it). floating cars is something we assume is possible *when our technology advances to that point*, but flying carpets are fantasy, and by applying scientific principles is 1) pointless, 2) lame, 3) smacking of the author trying too hard/trying to be cute/trying to be 'smart' and 4) amounts to pure BS. can carpets fly? without technology, only by magick. by technologicalizing magick, the author is bastardizing the genre in an overt effort to 'do what's never been done before.'

magick is not speculative: it's wishful thinking. i'll be glad to send someone a lock of my hair for their voodoo doll (for the low, low price of $2, because that's what i figure my clones to be worth) knowing it will have absolutely no effect on my life whatsoever unless i give it some. anyone who feels compelled to do so may put a curse on me. knock yourself out. anyone who wants to bang on my door with the butt end of a shotgun, that's a different story. that's the difference: i believe the former speculation to be entirely without merit, but the latter is much more probable to have a realistic affect. :)

how can i argue that eye of newt has no realistic theoretical basis? i can't if that's what someone chooses to believe.

Nateskate
07-28-2005, 03:50 AM
I agree that overt messages detract from the story. But I prefer something deep, thought provoking.

I like the characters that grow, and who feel inner conflict. If two people are falling in love in the story, I want them to wrestle their way there, not to fall there. In fact, I like them to start out disliking each other and discovering why they should change their minds. Pit them against each other, throw a few wrenches in it.

In book one I use bitterness and fear as catalysts to catastrophe. Why? I've just seen how anger can ruin lives. It's reality. Families are broken apart and kingdoms are divided because someone won't let go of a percieved slight.

That is only a small part of the story, but it's a thought provoking part. I've also seen how people can hurt other people out of irrational fear, "Hurt them before they hurt me."

In book two, I use the choices of an impulsive child to cause a mother to question her entire past, whether she was a good mother, whether his choices were her fault. When she realizes he is just like she was, she can now be more forgiving of her father's imperfections. She starts to see her past through a parent's eyes, and how her parents felt when she ran away from home.

Now, is there a lesson in there? Of course. We tend to harshly judge others until we find ourselves in their shoes.

Why does the protagonist have to discard everything he carried with him before he can reach the mountaintop? It's a simple lesson in life. Sometimes you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you love someone you may have to make a sacrifice. Sometimes you can't have it both ways, your "career goals" and the relationship you want. Sometimes if you don't lay something down, you lose something more important.

Now, that's not written there. It's not explained. However, when he comes to this point, I'm hoping some readers will wonder why he has to throw away his provisions, and trust he'll survive without them.

In fact, some things I write will make absolutely no sense unless the reader wants to meditate on what the heck Nate was talking about. But it's always subtle things that don't take away from the story.

Wisdom is personified, and the protagonist meets her along the way. Why does she constantly change shape, from a beautiful women, to a child, to an old man? Why does her home change shape, from a cave to an open field, to a palace? Ah, it would be so easy to tell you the answer to the question, but then you'd have no fun figuring out the answer yourself.

Want to venture a guess?

sunandshadow
07-28-2005, 05:22 AM
Can you really say that an overt message always detracts from a story? What about Faust, Daedalus and Icarus, Aesop's Fables, and other stories which are built aroud a message - do you really think they would be improved by muting that message?

Nateskate
07-28-2005, 04:03 PM
Can you really say that an overt message always detracts from a story? What about Faust, Daedalus and Icarus, Aesop's Fables, and other stories which are built aroud a message - do you really think they would be improved by muting that message?

Perhaps it depends on a definition of overt. I love Aesop's Fables, and all Mythology has some core belief in it. Fairy Tales generally have a moral of the story.

I think a message works better with a tragedy. In Faust, you have someone who sells his soul. In a sense, it's a bit like Screwtape Letters, which has a specific point, but works because you don't have someone moralizing. Instead you have a thought provoking, "Demon's perspective"

It's much more interesting. I tend to disagree with the basic point that a moral detracts from the story. By saying an "Overt" message, I'm referring to someone laying his cards on the table.

The most "moralistic" stories ever written are parables. But if you look at Parables, they don't mention "God", or words like "Holy". Instead, they talk about sheep and shephards, and lost sons, and vinyards, and judges, and kings. The funny thing about parables is that many were written to religious audiences. Yet, they were meant to shake up the thinking of religious audiences because they fall prey to Archetypes, and become rigid. So, they are an attempt to get people who thought they were "moral" to think outside of a "moral box".

The prodigal son is profound. It was addressing one of the most religious groups in history. They had a view of the world, "Us and sinners". The moral of the story is that from God's perspective there are only "sons", lost or found. And sons can be lost at home as much as they can be lost in pig slime.

Yet the story doesn't mention God once. So it isn't a lecture. And that's where many writers fail. They lecture their reader. Or they have a thinly veiled sermon. And that insults the thinking of the reader. I personally find that approach irritating, regardless of what the "moral" of their story happens to be. In a sense, the writer is telling the reader what is right and what is wrong instead of leaving it to them to form their own opinion.

britlitfantw
08-08-2005, 08:11 AM
Possibly the most recurrent theme in my fantasy novel is duty; all of the characters have a different view of it, how they should get there, and why. I didn’t intend for it to be there, but it’s there anyway. I can’t really say it’s a moral theme, because it is very broad, but still … I look at my books, I look at my characters (especially one of them) and think of duty.



As an example, the MC is extremely loyal and determined to do what is her duty. But when she sees it as being fulfilled, she will go on to the next bidder, even if it seems to go against her previous idea of duty. In a word, she’s a mercenary. She’s very interesting to write about; you’d think you wouldn’t like her, she’s not necessarily the most likeable, but she’s my favourite. It’s the extreme flaws that make her seem human that endear her to me.



The other thing is that, if she sees another possible way to be dutiful, no matter how it seems to others, she will take it. Even if it means betraying some people and joining the enemy.



It’s an interesting complex, and I think duty is something many of us deal with. Anyway, that’s my two cents. :)

Silverhand
08-22-2005, 10:51 PM
The more I think about it, the more I know my novel has a deep underlying theme. Yet, atfer having my family read it, and seeing how each understood that my novel deals with religion, I cannot understand how each of them came up with a different conclusion on what I was talking about.

I mean I made 3 people cry, saying I hate Christ. Then I had 2 pastors read it, to the song of how every Christian should act, and how great of a christian fantasy this was, blah blah blah...I mean---it was just insane. I am still unsure what to think.

Anyways, my point is a theme is important, but maybe it should not be so concrete that readers cant extrapilate multiple meanings.

What ye think?

arodriguez
08-23-2005, 11:15 PM
themes? plots? bah humbug!

preyer
08-24-2005, 03:45 PM
'theme' to me is a nebulous kind of term, neither here nor there. personally, 'duty' in and of itself is not a theme, it's a plot element and/or characterization. 'how far should a soldier go all in the name of duty if what's he's asked to do is morally reprehensible?' is more of a theme. like it's been mentioned, don't be overt with your personal conclusions, rather show through your character the decisions they made and try to have realistic responses.

this is where 'write what you know' comes into play, which has to be taken with a grain of salt, true, yet there's some truth to it, too. showing nothing but your own take on a situation in a fumbly attempt at 'proving' your foregone conclusion will just get you rejected as someone who doesn't know what they're talking about. for instance, having a conscientious objector return to the states in 1977 and convince every one at dad's VFW that he did the right thing is just stupid. he's going to get his asss kicked despite his empassioned sermonizing, and despite whether he's right or wrong.

traveling through life, it's been my experience that right and wrong has nothing to do with much of nothing except on a personal level. there are varying degrees of each and shades of gray to consider. sermonizing can lead to a 'in a perfect world this is how it would be' type of story, and even then it's only perfect in the author's mind.

for me, i hope any theme i neglect, refuse or forget to put in deliberately will nonetheless be intrinsic in the writing. when i sit down with a theme in mind, it forces me into a conclusion, and that conclusion will only be right to me. it's not enough for me to agree with someone's theme in principle, but the details have to be dead-on, too, rather like building a foundation for the taj mahal and erecting a shot-gun shack on top, or vice versa, i'm not sure which.

one of the most thematically disected books of all time is 'moby dick.' wouldn't it be funny if we were *all* wrong? i mean, those people have searched for truth as told by a crazy person. sure, makes perfect sense to me, lol.

arodriguez
08-27-2005, 01:33 PM
the themes i put are sci fi fantasy themes...blood guts sex and glory

Vomaxx
08-28-2005, 05:01 AM
themes? plots? bah humbug!

You must write literary fiction. :)

preyer
08-28-2005, 07:37 AM
all i ask is that it's entertaining. if i want meaning i'll read plato, lol.

Sharon Mock
08-28-2005, 11:24 AM
...darn it, I forgot the glory part...

For what it's worth, I didn't set out to explore or exploit any specific theme in my WIP. I started out with a story I wanted to tell, figured out what the story was and how best to tell it, then figured out why I wanted to tell it.

There's one story banging around in the back of my head where the theme was one of the first things to come to me. But the theme is the relationship between nobility and fascism, and the story was inspired by certain scenes in the LOTR movies, so I suppose that's not particularly surprising.

preyer
08-28-2005, 03:33 PM
i don't think anyone's really anti-theme, just anti-preachy, which is a pitfall easily fallen into. personally, starting off with a theme is something i find limiting and can direct the story in ways i don't really want it to go. that's just me, though, probably because i write on the fly.

i had a teacher who always wanted to know the theme to every story and it was 'bad' because i didn't have one to offer. as if theme is the only way of imparting anything special. hogwash. it's a damn dragon destroying everything in its path, and you want me to make some kind of commentary out of that? oh, wait, the dragon is the last of its kind and targets human settlements sitting on what was once its old stomping grounds and the dragon slaghters the last wizard in the middle of the story. if someone wants to read a theme in that, be my guest, lol. in reality, i just thought it sounded cool at the time.