Thursday, June 11, 2009

if I never hear the word "Theme" again.....

Its time for a patented jeff-rant, and this time its about the idea of "themes" in literature.

As the son of authors, let me tell you something. NO good writer has EVER started a project by saying "hmm, what themes am I going to explore in this work."

Good writers think about character first, and story second.  Trust me, Steven King never asked himself, "what theme should I invoke now."  But he asks hismelf all the time "what would scare the crap out of them now" or even more often "what would this character do in this situation."

Some writers do write with a statement in mind.  Sometimes its to make a point, though more often its to attempt to get the reader to think about the issues and come to their own conclusions.  Kurt Vonnegut (who never considered himself a sciecne fiction writer) comes to mind, as do many of the "golden age" science fiction writers.  But none of them I gaurnatee you ever thought about a "theme."

The idea of "themes" will not be found in any book on writing written by actual writers.  However you find it all over academic literary criticism.  This is where your contemporary lit teacher in high school got it from.  And, in film school, we had a hirearchy: "Those who can't do, teach.  Those who can't teach, critique.  And those who can't critique, review."

Unfortunately we now have a whole generation of grownups who believed their conteporary lit teacher that writing fiction was  all about "themes."  And thus we have a crop of adults who somehow think that talking about the "themes" in liertature makes them seem smarter.  Some of them even believe that because they can play "identify the theme" they could be writers.

But I got news.  Its just like film criticism.  And being able to play "find the phallic symbol" in movies never made anyone a film maker.  "Themes" are the phallic symbols of literature, in more ways than one.

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