There’s an important theme in Law and Order SVU season 12, episode 3. Can you spot it?
Okay, admit it. Your eyes rolled back in your head when you saw the word ‘theme’ in this post’s title, didn’t they? If so, it’s not surprising. Many writers, genre writers in particular – of which many of us here are – are often taught to disregard theme, at least in the early drafts. We’re told a story’s theme will emerge as we revise and dig deeper on later drafts, if indeed it need ever emerge. Who really needs theme anyway, other than your boring high school English teacher? After all, who wants a heavy-handed moral lesson or the author’s worldview shoved down her throat when she’s just trying to immerse herself in good fiction?
According to Lisa Cron, probably everyone.
As Cron discusses in Wired for Story, Story Genius, and workshops (for those of us lucky enough to attend one!), our brains are hardwired for story because story helps us decipher the world around us, and to discover ‘what would happen if’ without physically putting ourselves in harm’s way. In that way, stories are tied to our very survival as a species (sounds pretty cool to be a writer nerd now, doesn’t it?). Other cool things that happen to our brains on fiction are an increased capacity for empathy (through bonding with a protagonist and walking several miles in her shoes) and a willingness to challenge our own world views. And all that cool stuff happens because somewhere under all the scenes and character arcs and plot points and cause and effect trajectory, a story has a specific way of looking at the world, a message, a theme.
Instead of thinking about theme as some sort of moral imperative or high-brow statement to be made at the expense of good story, what if we think about theme as the beating heart of our story? Sound more appealing now? Continue reading
Colored etching by Thomas Rowlandson, 10 October 1810 (Wellcome Library, London)
I’m huffing and puffing along with my WIP, in which every word, action, relationship, plot twist, and characterization is driving me nuts. This week my nightmare is the relationship of my hero and heroine. I can’t seem to find a reason why they shouldn’t get together. And sometimes I can’t find a reason why they should.
My hero is a wealthy guy, very successful in his first career, and now, embarking on his second, looking to make a fortune there, too. My heroine is a Spunky Girl, also in her second career. She made a spectacular splash but not a fortune in her first job and now, having located to be closer to the hero, is determined to become the best in her new line of work. Because Backstory, it’s important to her that no one think she’s a gold digger or riding on the hero’s coattails, so she’s careful to take things slowly.
This is book two; in book one they cemented an attraction. My plan for book two is that they get engaged. To move that arc, my plan is that in the beginning, the hero wants her to move in and she won’t, and by the end, he’s proposed and she’s accepted. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, I told you about my quest to get my butt in the chair and words on the page, to re-engage with my WIP after long months away from it due to obligations of the dreaded ‘day job’. Getting my writing mojo back was not going well, and I need to take Nike’s advice and ‘just do it’. Just sit down and type.
At first, that approach seemed to work. I’d get down a few hundred words here and there. Then I realized some scenes were nothing like I remembered them, and I made notes about fixing them. After that, I realized some scenes I would have sworn I’d written were really just in my head, not on the page. Things were going from bad to worse.
But we are a tenacious group, we writers. So one night I sat down with a glass of wine (hey, tenacity sometimes needs a boost) and pondered how I should approach this mess of a WIP I’d made. Although it wasn’t so much that I’d made a mess of it. Stepping away from it for so long had allowed my subconscious to write a better story. It had fixed some plot holes and gotten to the deeper essence of my characters, which drives how they will act/react, which drives the plot. See, a glass (or maybe it was two) of wine can do wonderful things for perspective. Continue reading
Love Between the Covers is a documentary film about the romance community. I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film along with a Q&A with Laurie Kahn, the film’s director. For three years, the crew followed the lives of five published romance authors and one unpublished one and explored topics including the romance community, writing methods, publishing, industry change, and, of course, why the heck is it so popular, yet largely ignored. The big question of “How can a billion dollar industry by women, for women, about women, get so little respect?” was not answered, but was acknowledged and addressed by several of the interviewees. I can’t remember which author said something like, “we pay the bills for the whole fiction industry.” Continue reading
Copenhagen: Almost gray enough to be Seattle
For the past few months, when I’ve had time to think about story, I’ve had several current and future projects on my mind. One of them is a mystery set in Copenhagen, with one of my (current) favorite characters, Nicholai Jens Olesen, aka Nicky O (to his American friends). You might remember Nick from a few short stories I’ve shared here on the blog, Copenhagen Blues and Lost Hearts in Copenhagen. But one day soon (or you know, a year or so from now), I’m going to write Nick’s full-length story.
I’m already planning the trip back to Denmark for research. And for visiting my husband’s family and having great food and drinks and hygge, but also, research. Definitely research. I’ll want to find ways to use Copenhagen as more than just backdrop and scene setting. I’ll want to infuse Nick’s entire story with a sense of that unique place. And all this has me thinking about another story my husband and I binge-watched, the American TV series The Killing set in Seattle*, which is an adaptation of a Danish TV series (Forbrydelsen, which roughly translates to ‘Crime’). Continue reading
Do you have a favored technique for working out stubborn problems or kick-starting creativity?
I’ve read in the past that working on a familiar, routine task like cooking can work wonders – it gives the conscious mind a job to do that’s not taxing to the subconscious, so the Girls in the Basement can brainstorm the creative problem without being interrupted every few minutes.
Cooking works quite well for me, especially when I’m editing, but when I’m in the early discovery stage of a new story in a new world, when the possibilities are limitless and almost everything has to be invented, my favorite trick for getting myself unstuck is to do a jigsaw.
Just recently I had a setback with my WIP when a long-time critique partner said, after reading three chapters, that she didn’t know why my main characters were on the page. She didn’t see the attraction between my hero and heroine. She didn’t see any conflict.
I’ve struggled with this book, so I tried a new approach: I’ve been writing the turning points first and then filling in chapters as the mood struck. My plan is to write as quickly as possible and then revise until I’m happy. Her assessment of the romance in this book was disappointing, because I’ve been working hard to strengthen the execution of romance elements. My romance plots usually struggle to stay in front of my exterior plots, but in this case, I thought I’d done a pretty good job of keeping the romance hot and prominent.
However, I know I have a problem with it: Continue reading