31 May 2011

Thematic Significance for Writers

As corny as it sounds, I'm wild about thematic significance. I mean if the Universal Story longs to manifest, what better way than through a story's deeper themes?

There are writers who excel at writing character-driven stories and those who prefer action-driven stories. Also, though I've found rarer, are writers who lean toward theme-driven stories

Jodi Picoult in Change of Heart, shows the affects the dramatic action has on the characters' emotional development in order to bring to the fore themes about the life sentence, abuse, loss, redemption and love.

When the Killing's Done by T. S. Boyle is another thematic significance plot driven novel. 

Interestingly, both of the two theme-driven writers, use multiple viewpoint characters, each with their own chapters, with a clear first line for each switch in point-of-view and creates a minimum of confusion. When readers are immediately pulled into the next character’s mind and body, readers they have little reason to feel they will miss the character they just were connected to. And, each character has a very definite point of view about the issues at hand though the protagonist's change overtime to fulfill the role of the protagonist -- the character who changes the most in the story by the dramatic action

In the first quarter of When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle, two characters alternate chapters told from their own points of view. The beginning chapters of the story are Alma’s introduction told through her grandmother’s story. The third chapter focuses on Alma herself and begins by firmly grounding the reader.

"Though Alma is trying her hardest to suppress it, the noise of the freeway is getting to her. She can’t think to slice the cherry tomatoes and dice the baby carrots, can’t clear her head, can barely hear Micah Stroud riding the tide of his emotions through the big speakers in the front room."

These two sentences immediately thrust the reader into the scene. They, showing who is doing what, how the action is emotionally affecting her, and a general idea where she is. and They also offering specific details that define herAlma: living near a noisy freeway, knowing how to cook, listening to music that rides the tide of the singer’s emotions, and a love ofloving music that is strong enough that she owns big speakers.

The next chapter switches to the male character’s point of view. 

"If there is one thing he hates, it’s a runny yolk."

That’s about all the reader needs to read in order to know the main character in this chapter. He’s opinionated and narrow-minded.

By including a reference to the stereo speakers in the female point of view ties these two major viewpoint characters together long before the reader is given any other clues of other connections, one of which Alma prefers stay a secret.

The speakers also foreshadow both character's propensity to want to broadcast, get on a soap box to proclaim their point of view about the right of eradicating invasive species to bring an island back to the balance of the past versus the right of animals to life.

Though the themes that drive you to write play out more subtly in your stories, still the search for the meaning beneath our actions and into a universal truth serves the Universal Story well.

For tips about the Universal Story and writing a novel, memoir or screenplay, visit Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? on YouTube. A directory of all the steps to the series is to the right of this post. Enjoy!