26 April 2007

How Personal Themes Affect Your Writing

Mary Cronk Farrell posted a question on the last entry I made:

Thank you for sharing your wisdom on theme and giving a story depth. I have just finished the first draft of my mystery novel and am beginning to revise using your plot planner scene tracker. I have no idea what my theme is. Can you give me some ideas about how to tease it out? The characters are working out some conflicts besides the mystery, so I know there is some kind of theme about relationships. But what?
Thank you!

Rather than answer her within the comments, I thought I'd cut and paste here what I wrote in the most recent Blockbuster Plots eZine. (If you would like to sign up for the free monthly plot tips eZine, go to: http://www.blockbusterplots.com/contact.html).

I hope the exercise helps, Mary! And thanks for your comments.

On the final class of a recent University of California Santa Cruz extension plot workshop series, I asked writers to complete an exercise meant to reveal themes of their lives. Once again, as in every case, at the end of the exercise, the themes emerging in each of their stories dramatically reflect each writer's personal themes.

Following is the exercise adapted from Philip Gerard's book, Writing a Book That Makes a Difference:

Look into your own personal back story ~~ all of life's experiences and history that has made you who you are today. Which scene has stayed with you in detail and emotion since the moment of the experience? The really big stuff, either traumatic or ecstatic, follows life's paradox: that which is big actually means very little. That which is small can mean everything.

Look for the small cause that created a lasting effect. For example: You wanted something with all of your might and you got it. Or, you wanted something with all of your might and you did not get it. Two similar dreams, two thematically opposite outcomes and lasting effects.

We as writers are conduits of creation. Inspiration flows through us to the page, having been touched by our body of experiences and residue emotional development based on those experiences.