Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Theme-Plot Integration Part 18 Stating Your Theme

Theme-Plot Integration
Part 18
Stating Your Theme
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous entries in Theme-Plot Integration are indexed at:

By the end of the first scene of your novel, preferably the end of the first page, the reader should have a grasp of your theme.

Oddly enough, though it's not discussed in books on writing, and most readers would deny it, THEME is the reason people read books all the way through, or toss them aside half-read.

THEME is what the novel, story, book (non-fiction, too) is about.

It's the topic and you need a topic-sentence on your opening page, something to frame the story so the reader can tell if they want to invest the time (and money) to read the entire thing.

What you're talking about has to be something the reader is interested in.

Writing craft instruction usually starts with "make it interesting" -- or write about something interesting -- and other phrases that seem to assume that some topics are inherently interesting and others not.

In other words, the FALLACY underlying writing craft instruction is simply that "interesting" is an objective property of topics.

We discussed various fallacies masking ultimate truths in our world in Parts 6 and 7 of this series of posts.

Fallacy is an aspect of our culture that can be exploited by fiction writers, especially Romance writers, to interest a reader in a topic, a THEME.

The theme itself doesn't have to be interesting.  In fact, all themes are interesting to the writer who is stating their own angle on a topic.

"Interesting" is not a property of theme.  All themes are equally interesting.

And in fact, a particular reader doesn't have the property "interested in" as an inherent trait of that person.

What interests a particular person at a specific moment will be whatever problem is currently between them and the satisfactions of life they crave most.

Children are always interested in how the next older age-group copes with whatever problems they are up to in life.

Adults are eternally interested in The Mating Game -- even after having solved the problem "Who Should I Marry" people are interested in where other sorts of choices might have led, and how they'd cope with those situations.

When you add science fiction to the mixture of fictional ingredients in theme, you can lead the reader from their own (boring) here and now, to a "there and then" which you can use to cast the spell of "this is interesting" over them.

What is interesting about science fiction?  It isn't where the reader is living at that time.

Life, the treadmill of work, housekeeping, kids, carpooling, school meetings, and all the drudgery that goes with it gets boring with repetition.  All that boring drudgery can become refreshingly NEW after reading a good book.

But what is a "good book?"

Is a "good" book the book you want to write?  Or is it the book the reader wants to read?  Or - is it really the UNEXPECTED?

The best writers best books are about themes that ask questions most people never think to ask, and present answers that challenge everyday assumptions about the common world of daily drudgery.

Two such series are currently being published that, while barely acknowledging Romance and only occasionally nodding to Relationship as a plot moving dynamic, nevertheless give the Science Fiction Romance writer many themes to pursue.

Pass of Fire (Destroyermen Book 14 ) by Taylor Anderson

Triumphant (Genesis Fleet, The Book 3) by Jack Campbell

These are good books, can't put it down reads, about a topic that will bore you to tears -- war.

Yet how many grand War Romances have you seen on film, usually World War II settings?  How many marvelous novels have you read which are War Romances, and how many of your favorite kick-ass-heroines are from books set in a war zone?

War is a male occupation, a fascination and inherently interesting.  Therefore, male writers, when using a war-plot, waste no words trying to convince their readers that war is interesting.

How many chapters of plot development do you build into a Romance to convince your readers that Romance is interesting?

When was the last time you asked yourself why you find Romance interesting?

What's interesting about it?  Why would anyone WANT to meet that Perfect Stranger?  What's wrong with the boy next door?  Why would anyone WANT to fall in love with the boy next door when they could adventure with a Stranger?

What do we write about that needs no explanation?

That topic is what must be explained, (e.g. used in the THEME) to non-Romance readers in order to convince them that Romance is interesting, and then to intrigue them into being interested.

None of that process is evident in either Taylor Anderson's writing or Jack Campbell's series-of-series.

I love them both, gobble them up, but fight through the flat-boring and tedious wordage that doesn't acknowledged the Relationship energy necessary to drive a war-plot.

I've discussed both these writers and their series at length - there is so very much to say about what a Romance writer can learn by studying these two exemplary series, so I'm pointing you at the latest entries.  Here are previous posts where I've discussed them:




Depicting Political Disruption From China To Today

Depicting Interstellar Commerce




Why would a writer of Science Fiction (or Paranormal) Romance need to read these books?

Surely, you've studied military tactics and weaponry issues.  If you've ever played a video game, (and won), the principles of resource conservation and weapons superiority are ingrained in you.  Tactics are second nature.

If you've ever captured a guy's attention, you've mastered the fine art of war, strategy, tactics, and that little black dress is your most potent weapon.

On your own battleground, you know what you're doing.

But what makes your battleground of interest to readers who hate Romance Genre?

Notice the phrasing of that question: "of interest to"  -- that's the key. "Interesting" is not a property of a static element in the equation.  It is something that the Artist Makes.

In graphic arts, we learn how to "lead the eye" of the viewer, and focus attention where we want it.

The same is true of writing stories -- grab the reader's attention, then lead that attention through an obstacle course to a goal which becomes more enticing with each passing page of the narrative.

The THEME hint on page 1-5 "grabs attention" and just before the final climax scene, the THEME STATED image-or-dialogue congratulates the Reader on having guessed correctly what is to be REVEALED by the nature of the ENDING.

The initial problem from page 1 (where the two forces that will conflict to generate the plot first meet) asks the question the writer thinks will intrigue the target reader for this novel.

The same story can be opened with a dozen different page-1 questions.  The artist chooses an approach angle to the story's main problem the same way a photographer chooses an angle to snap a portrait image.

It's all about composition, and that is all about what is concealed and what is revealed.

When you write out in plain language what your theme is, you are presenting that them "on the nose" -- a blatant, can't-miss-it, insistent statement that will not allow the reader to use their imagination to "fill in the blanks."

What makes War and Relationship connected lies in that blank space the reader has to fill in.

But to entice the reader into a story framed in a genre they are convinced is un-interesting, the writer has to frame the blank space so that the reader wants to know what's in that dark hole.

The most boring material in our current world is considered to be philosophy, but it is in fact the most interesting material.  And in fact, at this point in history, philosophy is the most explosive issue.

For example, a lot of people now think that Capitalism is Evil.  But just a few decades ago, Capitalism was considered the greater Good.

Capitalism is a word that's been redefined, as has Socialism.  That redefinition is possible because each of these words represents a system rooted in vast, but different, philosophical systems.

We all live in the same objective reality, but we all craft our own subjective reality from what we observe, then proceed with life assuming that what we don't see isn't there.

The writer's job as an Artist is to reveal what we are not seeing.

What we, today, are not-seeing is what we call Philosophy.

Both Jack Campbell and Taylor Anderson have created imaginary wars in which the sides are divided along the same philosophical line -- Totalitarian Vs Democracy

But each is analyzing Democracy differently, and in some instances peppering the argument with "Republic" -- or the USA hybrid a "Representative Democracy."

Taylor Anderson's alternate universe reality has peoples who are not "human" (anthropoid) but have governing philosophies based on their physiology.  At the same time, his Global War has many human factions, torn from our Earth at different points in history.  These human factions have evolved governing philosophies along different paths than our Earth has taken.

Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series pits a wide variety of governing philosophies against each other, but follows a number of evolving Relationships among exceptional individuals whose decisions reshape the course of history on his well built world.

Jack Campbell's universe is huge, and contains several Series set in interstellar war-torn landscapes.  The Genesis Fleet series focuses on an epoch of human expansion among the stars using "jump points" but ships that fight each other within Newton's laws.

Campbell's 3-D warfare tactics are Heinleinesque, and remind me also of Edward E. Smith's Lensman series.

Campbell develops the reasons why the newly settled planets far out there, barely able to conduct commerce with each other, using humanity's known history.  On Earth, we spread out, settle new areas, then fight over resources, or just territory, and very often just over control of large populations.

And that's where Campbell uses philosophy so very well.  He's drawn the newly settled planets' cultures based on  the essential philosophic dichotomy currently splitting our own real world, "Totalitarianism vs. Democracy" in various versions.

Humanity's enemy of freedom is born within us.  Given a few generations of freedom, we will breed a faction that is driven by the urge to CONTROL -- people who can't feel safe or at rest while other people make their own decisions.

Where those who need to control others gain command, war happens because they notice all these surrounding peoples who won't knuckle under.

So battle lines are drawn, alliances formed, and shooting wars held.

On Earth, now and historically, warriors battle without knowing what they are fighting for, but believing in their Cause, stated in some two-word motto.

Jack Campbell articulates what such mottos stand for, and what motivates large populations to espouse one or the other form of government.  His THEME is that people who believe in the same values are natural allies, and even lovers -- with Romance in there, and true love as well.

Campbell's Characters have Relationships which they set aside in order to go into mortal combat to protect those they love.  He has male and female warriors, equally good at personal combat, strategy and tactics, and computer hacking.

Interwoven with the action scenes, there are short dialogue scenes where the Characters articulate what they are fighting for, against, and why these ideas are important enough to die for.

For example, in The Genesis Fleet TRIUMPHANT, one of Campbell's Characters, Freya, says...


"...I think there's an important point there.  Those who have sought to impose their will on others have often done so in the name of peace and law and order, arguing that freedom must be given up to accomplish those aims.  We know that's false.  That's why we balk at giving up even a little of our freedom even when we see danger at our doors.  But perhaps we should be thinking of it as if all of us were in a fight, and standing back to back to protect each other.  We'd have given up some freedom of movement, but nothing that matters compared to knowing we can't be stabbed in the back."

------end quote---------

The quote is from a discussion about forming an interplanetary alliance of freedom-loving planets to fight off encroaching totalitarians who aim to take over an entire region.

That quote is from page 119 of 327 pages in book 3 of the Genesis Fleet sub-series all set in the same universe, but about the same War.  Being an intermediate restatement of the theme, the reader doesn't get a feeling of finality but rather of progress.

The Characters are trying to figure out why they are doing what they are doing in order to figure out what the enemy is doing, in order to figure out what to do next to win this war.

But given other thematic utterances previously, the reader sees "this war" is a war against human nature, and war isn't the correct tool to win it.

Without war, though, humanity as a whole will definitely lose.

So War isn't the correct tool to solve the problem posed by War.

Later in his timeline, Campbell introduces Aliens who are playing a game of "Let's you and him fight" -- pitting these two factions of humanity against each other in order to conquer (perhaps wipe out) humanity.

The entirety of this Work of Art directly addresses the thematic issue of the role of government in species survival.

There is so much to be said on that theme that is better suited to Science Fiction Romance than to the Action Genre format Campbell is using.  But he does have his most potent Hero Characters deeply involved in committed Relationships.  Their primary motive in every act of war is protecting those Relationships.

It would be so easy to spin off a sub-series of pure Romance from this material.

I highly recommend you pay close attention to both these writers, and both these series.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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