Thursday, July 23, 2009

Simplifying Your Theme

As I've been studiously avoiding working on my revisions for my WIP, I realized something.

When I wrote the book, I had a general idea of my theme. I didn't write it to preach a lesson, and I didn't have an agenda that I was going with, but if someone had asked me to summarize my work in one word, it would be:

Truth.

Each character must face a harsh truth, and then decide how they'll deal with that truth. I wrote the book with that main concept in mind: what is truth? Is it easier to face truth or live a lie? Given the choice, would you choose truth or lies? Does everyone deserve the same truth? How do people react when faced with a harsh truth?

As I'm revising, though, I've come to realize that "truth" as a central concept is too weak. Truth is a simple noun: it just sits there. And too often, it allows the characters to just sit there, talking. And whenever characters are just sitting there, talking, the text is boring. Truth as a concept is a little to static.

When I looked back over what I'd written, and refocused on those central questions revolving around truth, I saw another pattern, another central concept that, while I didn't set out to write about, emerged from the text.

Choices.

Sure, my characters face harsh truths: but the dynamic part of the story was when they chose how to live with and what to do about those harsh truths. When I focused my writing on "truth," I too often had the characters listening, talking, and thinking. When I focused my revisions on "choices," the characters still heard, talking about, and thought about the truths--but they were quicker to react and put into motion their ideas.

In fact, this has led to a complete rewrite of my opening chapters. Before, I had one character very accepting of the lies that he was told. He was, to put it simply, a pushover. He allowed himself to be bullied, and he was weak and low self-esteem.

Originally, I did this so that I could set him up. He was weak in the beginning, then grew stronger in the end. He was lied to in the beginning, and sought the truth in the end.

But...he was weak. And people don't like to read about how weak someone is: they like to read about how even the weak can be strong.

So I've moved Chapter 15 to Chapter 1, and I've let this character be weak for only a few pages before he's presented with information that he thinks is the truth. After that, he starts making choices...and choices = action.

And action isn't boring.

So, how about you? If you could sum up your WIP in one word, what would it be? Does that word reflect your goals for your writing? (For example, is the word very abstract when you have something distinct you want to do, or is the word very passive when you want to be proactive, or is the word introverted and contemplative when you want your writing to be extroverted and action-packed?
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