08 September 2009

Theme and Plot

I just finished reading The Geography of Bliss; One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner. Yes, it's a non-fiction book but because it borders on a memoir thus makes an interesting study for a compulsive plot consultant such as myself.

Selected as One of the Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post Book World, The Geography of Bliss is called a travelogue by the Atlantic Journal-Constitution, travel tales by Publishers Weekly (in a starred review). 

However, most of the other reviews label the book as an odyssey ("...a very funny odyssey" by New York Newsday), a journey, a quest -- all of  which sound suspiciously like the hero's journey to me. Only Kirkus Reviews got it right in my mind: "part travelogue, part personal-discovery memoir".

Yes, the book is a humorous read and, for one who rarely travels, a wonderful way to learn about other countries of the world, but what drove me deeper and deeper into the story was the main character -- Eric himself. No surprise there. That's what pulls us deeper and deeper into every great story --the character. 

As in every great story, the character opens up about himself superficially in the Beginning (1/4). 

On page 93 (the Universal Story form 1/4 mark -- the End of the Beginning), he writes that a "crack forms in [my] armor. A crack large enough, if you're lucky, to let in a few shafts of light." We know at that point that something inside him has shifted. He has left the old world behind and has truly entered the exotic, unusual world of the Middle. 

By the middle of the Middle we understand him more deeply and in that understanding truly care about him and his journey toward "personal-discovery."

The book is all about happiness -- what it is, where it is found, who is happiest, etc...

Thematically, the path is clear. Character Emotional Development-wise, we understand the inherent conflict in this story = the main character, the author, is a self-described mope looking for happiness. Perfect!

The theme of most memoirs and fiction and screenplays is not as clear-cut. However, the theme often comes from the author him or herself. Which makes exploring our own themes a worthy endeavor. Look for exercises to help you get closer to the themes you live your life by in my next post.