Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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I've mentioned before that SF writer Tom Purdom [corrected typo: see comment] is writing an on-line memoir of his writing life. I find it interesting reading, both for the anecdotes about the SF world and its people in the 1950's, and for his insights into the process of writing fiction. For example, on 'theme':

The first story I sent Scott Meredith...was a novelette I had built around a political theme -- the need to choose the lesser evil, or some such thing. The agency returned it to me -- an inauspicious beginning to our new relationship -- and I knew they were right. The story was lifeless. It had been hard to write, too.

I decided that themes weren’t story ideas. You had a story idea when your brain handed you a dramatic situation that really gripped you.

Somerset Maugham once argued that critics assume writers start with a theme and invent some characters to illustrate it. It had been his experience, he said, that writers started with some characters and the theme grew out of their actions. You can apply the same argument to dramatic situations.

A good dramatic situation will attract themes. If you have any kind of a brain, you will have thoughts about life that will fit that particular situation. But you have to start with the situation. Fiction is about specific people doing specific things. You don’t have the material for a good story until you have some good specifics.

I've also heard people say the opposite, that they can't write until they have a theme.

The media—fiction, film, whatever—that affects me most strongly generally has a discernable theme. I'm unwilling to say 'always has a discernable theme': I suspect that if I looked hard enough I could find media that is entertaining but doesn't seem to be about anything, with a sensibility "so fine that no idea could violate it." But most media that touches me, that stays with me, has a theme. That is, it has ideas it talks about as well as plot, character, texture. But what comes first, the story or the theme?

Let me propose an idea: theme grows out of character. My thinking, lately, is that character is at the center of fiction. (Not an especially original thought, of course.) It's a commonplace that 'plot is character'. I suggest that theme is also character. Or rather, the hierarchy goes: character->plot->theme. Plot is character in action. Theme is the meaning of plot.

Or am I just having a blinding glimpse of the obvious?

"A good dramatic situation will attract themes." I like that.

BTW, all of this is cat-waxing. I've been stuck on the same story for the past two weeks, which has to be brutally revised, broken down into parts and re-welded together, and I'm resisting doing it.


meaning: good luck, joy

吉事 == kichigi == (noun) auspicious event
不吉 == fukitsu == (adjective that takes な) ominous, sinister, bad luck, ill omen, inauspiciousness

Confused etymology. This character was originally a pictograph of a filled food container, a symbol of happiness, contentment, and good fortune. Its current radicals are 'samurai' (士) and 'mouth' (口). Henshall suggests as a mnemonic: 'Samurai open mouthed with joy after good luck.'

Info from Taka Kanji Database
List of compounds including this character from Risu Dictionary

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