Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Feet, Toes, and Theme

You can't tell any kind of story without having some kind of theme, something to say between the lines. --Robert Wise
It would seem that last week's theme over this way centered around feet and the piggies that go with them. Feet as in the little one who came for a visit and almost immediately shed her small pink crocs to dance, jump (a new skill to a two-year old), and prance barefoot on cool tile. Later Angelica helped apply nail polish to mommy's toes (clear base coat--important to know) before painting her own, and grandma's. But it wasn't enough, and the only others left in the room were grandpa and daddy. Ever see a man with shiny toenails? Hubby had some explaining to do at his physical the next morning.

A few days later, I got blisters on the bottom of my feet. Hard to understand when the sandals have been worn now for two summers. Ouch. And then there were those moments when I had to be careful not to step on toes (think 1 Corinthians 13 here), but that's another story.

Theme. Tying all this together made me think about the role "theme" plays in writing. Theme is not plot. Theme is not story, or character. A great definition comes from Irwin/Eyerly's Writing Young Adult Novels: "A little girl explained theme best when she said it is what you remember about a book after you have forgotten who the characters were and what they did." Jane Yolen, in Take Joy, says, "Some people call the theme the 'meaning' of the story. Some call it the 'subtext.' But then, some people call a basement a cellar, or a bunker, or a foundation...Whatever we call it, it still supports the house.

"It is," she adds, "an overarching idea that encompasses the entire story."

Overarching idea--like love, heroism, journey, coming of age, power, family, good and evil. Your theme will be there, whether you start with knowledge of it at the beginning of your work, or discover it as you go. You'll find it--between the lines.

As long as you stay on your feet!

How do you determine the theme of your story? Do you find it difficult to identify, or does it come easily?


  1. If I go with what I know then I'm ok. sometimes a picture will inspire me too. :O)

  2. This is a tuff one. I think it's important to let the theme swill in your mind before solidifying it on paper. I like to entertain several at a time.

  3. In longer fiction, sometimes the theme is elusive and I have to think about it. Usually I'm so busy doing plot and storyline I don't even consider it when I begin, but one always seems to become clear. In shorter fiction, especially for children, I usually think of the theme first.

  4. I have found the themes of my story grow as I edit. When I find it, the editing becomes much easier. And I love the quotes!

  5. I try to think of it before I start and then grow it as I go:)