Monday, September 18, 2006

Theme - The Worst Thing You Can Do

Dear Dead Beat,
I love writing poetry and short stories, but quite frankly I am not sure I really understand ‘theme’. It seems obvious, yet sometimes I have no idea what I am writing about.

Dear Clueless,
Dead Beat would not have it any other way. People who ‘know’ what they are writing about usually write in a superficial and often pedantic way. Thus they leave themselves little room for exploration.

That’s not to say, that theme can be ignored, absolutely not. But in the early stages of our writing, the initial drafts we are discovering what the theme will be. The mistake is in imposing theme upon a story rather than allowing it to emerge from within. Look at your drafts and think about them. What interests you in the story or poem? Maybe a single image, a line, a character, an action, maybe something larger. Think about your interest. Why is it interesting? What associations does it have for you, or could it have for your readers? Play with it, tease it out, see if it is going to lead anywhere.

In other words, look at your draft, think about what it could mean and rewrite pursuing this idea. The repeat the process - now what interests you? Has it altered. You stick with it until you feel you have a grasp of the theme that is emerging and then you construct the remainder of your rewrites to build upon this.

Dead Beat remembers taking a workshop from Rick Bass (Homework from D.B. for tonight - check Rick’s work out). Bass is quite the environmentalist. However someone said they had a really big issue they wanted to write about and wondered the best approach. Bass told them never to write about their issues. “What’s the worst thing you could do about an issue you care about? Write a bad story about it.”

Important issues will eventually emerge from within the story not from without.

Please leave questions for Dead Beat in the Comments Section.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I seem to never be satisfied with my writing. I edit and rewrite and then I do it again and again and again. It never ends. I have written so many stories over the past decade. But even when I submit them for publication, even when they are published, I never feel that they're finished. I continue to work on them. Is this just the way of writers? How do you know when it's done?

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