Friday, 30 October 2009

Plot: themes expanded

In this last blog before I start the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month if you didn't already know), I'm going to go slightly deeper into the topic of themes.

But first a digression. The aim of the NaNoWriMo is to write a fifty thousand word first draft of a novel in a month, the month being November. This is my first attempt. I've done the sister campaign, the April Script Frenzy, when you write an entire movie script in a month. I did a mock NaNo in July, when I wrote 100K words. So this time I'm aiming for 100K words as well.

To that end, I've been outlining the plot and detailing the characters using the snowflake method - see Randy Ingermanson's site for more details. Basically, you describe the story in one sentence. Then expand it to a 5 sentence paragraph. Then create character summary sheets. Then expand the plot to 5 paragraphs, create a one page character synopsis for each of the major characters and so on.

The idea behind all this is to ensure that come November 1st, everything is worked out, plot is known, each scene is sketched out and all I have to do is write around 4000 words a day.

So what's my story about (I hear you ask)? What's the theme?

By theme, I mean which essential human emotion is being most thoroughly explored. Which element of the human condition is being plumbed and exposed.

There aren't that many themes, just as there aren't many basic emotions. Perhaps the commonest ones, the heroic ones, together with some filmic examples are:

  • Vengeance - (Gladiator)
  • The reluctant hero (High Noon)
  • Overcoming inner demons (My Beautiful Mind)
  • The tragic hero (Troy)
  • The family protector (The River Wild)
  • The coward transformed (Deliverance)
  • The tortoise and the hare (Die Hard)
  • True love conquers all (Casablanca)
  • Doomed lovers (Romeo and Juliet)
Now, my story can be summed up in one sentence:

"Can two lovers persuade their opposing factions to fight the enemy in their midst?"

What theme is being explored here?

I mention lovers, so there's obviously a romantic element. I mention opposing factions, so there's obviously conflict. I mention an enemy so there's more conflict.

It's clear from that one sentence that the lovers are going to have to convince warring groups to co-operate, so Romeo and Juliet might spring to mind.

But there's personal tragedy a-plenty, for which vengeance must be sought. Neither of the lovers wants to be a leader or a hero, so they're reluctant. Each has his and her own inner turmoil to confront. The enemy at first seems unbeatable, so tortoise and hare. The only ones that aren't present in bucketfuls are the family protector and the coward transformed.

This is often the case. A novel's main plot may express one theme, but other themes are brought out in the sub-plots. One major character may represent one theme while another may have completely different motivations.

And so it is here. I would say that honour and duty are the predominant facets of both the major characters, so reluctantly, they do what must be done, no matter the cost to themselves or others.

In my next post, whenever that may be, I'll expand on the ideas of conflict and romance a little more, as they are two essential elements to nearly every fiction and every theme.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck with NaNoWriMo, Paul! I don't think I could do it!