This morning, I’m typing up a couple of “found” scenes I wrote in a notebook almost four years ago. (I mentioned these scenes in an earlier post.) When I wrote these, I wasn’t really thinking about them in terms of scenes, but was scribbling out a freewrite with some ideas I had for a novel.
Many of my freewrites begin with me telling myself about something I want to do, and then they morph into scenes as I enter “the zone.” So it was no surprise to me when the first few paragraphs I typed up were back-story. But as I was typing, it occurred to me that what I had on the page at this moment was a theme, not a scene or even back-story.
These paragraphs will never make it into my novel in their current form. They’re telling, not showing. And we all know telling is bad, bad, bad. But these paragraphs are good. Not good writing, necessarily, but good thinking. They’re thoughts spilled on the page, meant to point out to me what I’m missing in my story.
What I wrote in those few paragraphs is a theme that I’ve probably touched on a bit throughout my current 225 double-spaced pages. But I haven’t fully developed it yet. As I read these paragraphs, a picture developed in my head of what my story needs. I have so many ideas all of a sudden, of how to increase the tension in scenes that have fallen flat. It has become clear to me that what I need to do is take this theme and develop it throughout the entire novel.
If you had told me four years ago that I would be consciously weaving themes into my novel, I might not have believed you. I have hated every literature course I have ever taken because of my professors’ focus on themes and motifs. I refused to believe that any entertaining writer ever sat down and intentionally wrote a story with a theme. That’s not how ideas come to me.
I realize now that, even though you may not intend to incorporate specific themes in your writing, they are usually there. You don’t have to think about themes in your first draft, but once you have your full story on the page, you really should dig through and figure out what they are.
Once you have your themes in mind, you will be able to develop your scenes in ways that may never have occurred to you before. Writing with a purpose in mind will provide a richer experience for your reader and a more satisfying accomplishment for you. Who knows, some literature professor may someday torture her students with discussions of the themes in your novel.
Do you think about themes before you write? In the middle, or after? Maybe you don’t think of them at all? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
- An Exercise in Freewriting (laniseb.wordpress.com)
- Poetic Freewriting (quidforquill.wordpress.com)
- “Point of View and Head Hopping” ~ Stefan Vucak (authorshelpingauthors.wordpress.com)
- Motivation (neversaidbefore.wordpress.com)
- FreeWriting Early Morning (rlbk75.wordpress.com)
- Gillian Flynn on her bestseller Gone Girl and accusations of misogyny (guardian.co.uk)
- Just keep typing. (annhurd.wordpress.com)
- Notes for a Two-Day Get-Away (sonjahutchinson.wordpress.com)
- Starting my first novel (loriowen12.wordpress.com)