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Mar 19, 2011

Finding Theme

"This is the first lesson you need to learn about magic, and about life. We all live in the same world, but we each see it differently." --Brena, in The Unfinished Song: Taboo

There's a slender but reflective book on writing called The Golden Theme by Brian McDonald, who argues: 
"Stories may have individual themes, such as 'there is no honor among thieves' or 'slow and steady wins the race.' But underneath all stories, no matter what their intentional theme may be, there lies another message--a universal message. 
...A cemetery tells us just one thing. And it does not whisper this truth, but shouts it. The dead tell us this: we are all the same.  
This simple sentence, we are all the same, is the Golden Theme that all stories express.
I think Brian McDonald illuminates theme exquisitely in his book. I remember reading on his blog a post he wrote, also about theme, in which he said that not all stories have themes, but all great stories have a theme. If there is a story that seems to have all the other elements of a good story--character, mood, plot, worldbuilding, style, yet still falls flat, chances are, it is lacking a theme. (I believe he used some M. Night Shyamalan movies as an example, and I completely agreed with his analysis; it explained to me exactly why I felt something was "missing" from a story I should have loved, but couldn't.)

I do think about theme a great deal as I write a story, and Initiate and Taboo, the first two books of The Unfinished Song, have themes which I think of as being complementary. The theme running through Initiate was self-sabatoge. There are a number of characters who seem to be suffering problems imposed on them from other people; but if you look more closely, you will see that they are actually causing themselves more grief than any outside force ever could. In Taboo, however, the theme is reversed. (I like reversals.) Several characters have problems they seem to be causing themselves, by violating taboos, but which actually call into question the validity of the law itself.

Nonetheless, I don't think we always find our themes. Sometimes our themes find us. As I was going over my edits, I noticed the above sentence, in a rather functional ("infodump") scene where the Tavaedi Initiates are leaning the rules of magic. I realized it is an underlying theme of the entire series, not one I planned, exactly, but one that flows naturally out of the structure of the world I created.


Aurora Smith said...

ok, im buying a book today on my Kindle, tell me your first book Is hould buy

Tara Maya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tara Maya said...

There's the first book in my fantasy series, available in both the US and the UK:

The Unfinished Song: Initiate (US)
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (UK)

And an anthology of sf and fantasy:


Both books are on sale right now for $.99 so it's a good time to snap them up.

And Book 2 of The Unfinished Song comes out in a few days.

SandyG said...

I liked this post. It shows a lot of insight that I hope I can apply to my writing.