This month, for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog, I was in charge of the question. And it was:
Does each book/story you write have an overarching theme, and if so, do you think of it ahead of time or discover it after?
Lydia answered this question last week, and Laura took the plunge the week before that.
I'll give my answer by telling you about the project that's most on my mind at the moment. My MC for this work, Lela, has a friend who commits suicide. Lela becomes aware her friend is not resting in peace. In fact, her friend is in a terrible place, and she is suffering. So when Lela has the chance to go find her friend and rescue her, she feels compelled to do so. Later, she questions if she was manipulated into making that choice and even wonders if she was chosen to go through what she does in the story.
And that's the theme of the book: the tension between choosing and being chosen, between what's thrown at you and what you do with it, between being a victim and being an active agent in your own fate, between destiny and free will.
I'm fascinated by choice. I work with folks who feel stuck, who feel forced into things, and we discuss the fact that there's almost always a choice. THAT DOESN'T MEAN THERE'S ALWAYS A GOOD CHOICE. Sometimes you have to choose among a bunch of utterly crappy options.
Think of it this way. You're walking down a road, and a giant brick wall descends from the sky and lands in front of you, blocking the path. What do you do? Your answer will depend on who you are, your past experiences with challenges of this type, why you're walking down that road (and what you're walking away from), and what you believe awaits you at the end of it. You may not have chosen to have a brick wall land in front of you, but you sure as heck have a choice about how you respond to it (whether it feels like it or not).
I know that all books are, to a large extent, about the choices the MC makes. But what I'm talking about is the question of whether there is a choice or not, of whether destiny and fate exist, and if so, what's the role of choice in that equation?
I didn't come up with this theme in advance (nor is it the only theme for this story), but it will guide the series I hope to create based on this first book. If I have to make revisions to this current ms, I do it with this theme firmly in mind. I believe it gives the story greater depth, gives my characters something to wrestle with and grow within, and helps me stay coherent and focused as a writer.
I don't think of theme first. It evolves as the story unfolds. But once it's there and it's clear, it becomes central to how the story develops, in addition to being the thread that connects the final story to its origins.
How about you? What's your answer to this question? Do you deal in themes, or are they purely happy accidents in your writing?
For those of you who haven't yet entered, there's still time to participate in my first ever blog contest. All you have to do is tell me what you see in the inkblot! It's easy! And you could win something! Something FANTASTIC.