To Continue with that Theme…

I realize I’m starting to get a little scattered in my writing about the process or writing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I think it illustrates one of the main points I’ve been making, which is that it’s important (for me, I’m always saying these things in relation to myself, even when I write in the second person) to make an outline and try to stick to it. For these blog posts, there’s no outline, there’s no plan, it’s just stream-of-consciousness writing.

So allow me to try to make a bit of an outline here before I continue rambling about the writing process. Here is a rough outline of the process in its entirety:

  1. Develop a theme
  2. Begin to outline the story by developing variations on the theme
  3. Develop characters
  4. Develop a setting
  5. Enlarge the outline by assigning characters and places to the theme variations
  6. Add major plot elements to the outline
  7. Add minor plot elements to the outline
  8. Repeat steps 1 to 7 several times
  9. Start writing the actual prose to turn the outline into a story
  10. Review and revise
  11. Edit and add
  12. Repeat steps 10-11 several times
  13. Find someone to buy the story

And that’s pretty much it. I jumped ahead yesterday and went into some detail about step 1 and a little bit about step 2, but that’s alright – going forward I’ll try to stick with this outline more or less. Having said that, it should be pointed out that this is my outline of the writing process, and although it makes sense to me it likely won’t make sense to a lot of people. There is the school of thought that a story is written by sitting down and typing out “Chapter One…” and proceeding to create a great story. Which is fine, but it doesn’t work for me, and I think it opens the door to a lot of revising and editing because unless the story is very short, you’ll end up writing yourself into a few dead ends by doing that.

My friends at Wikipedia say that theme is a subject, topic, recurring idea, or motif, which I think many would agree is a great place to start writing. Something very important about good writing is this, and I’m paraphrasing Neil Gaiman here: there is room for a written word to mean more than it literally means. Most of the best stories, in fact I think I’ll say that all of the best stories, exist on several levels. Even a story that seems like a bit of a throwaway action fantasy romp like Star Wars still has more meaning than is literally presented to you on-screen. Is Star Wars about the Rebellion’s efforts to overthrow the Galactic Empire? Sure it is. But it’s also about friendship and trust and temptation and redemption and all sorts of other things. I think a great theme statement for Star Wars would be that it’s a story about growing beyond oneself into the realization that life is best lived for others instead of selfishly. The author builds that theme by creating a story of a man tempted by power, who falls so heavily into the temptation of wielding power for his own sake that he destroys everything he should have cared about. In the end, he finds redemption by finally turning away from and destroying the dark influences he contended with.

It’s a great story, isn’t it? And interestingly, once you examine the story in terms of its theme rather than its specific characters, setting, or plot, you find that it sounds like other stories you’ve read or watched. I mean, isn’t Star Wars very much like The Lord of the Rings? I think the stories are almost identical actually; at least, once you strip away the trappings and look instead at the themes being explored and how those themes are developed.

Deconstructing the themes of books or movies is a fun way to work backwards through my writing process outline and see how others have constructed their stories, and how the character, setting, and plot elements have been developed to make the story work. In further blog posts I’ll continue to expand on the outline above.



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