Monday, August 17, 2009

The Way Life Works: Theme in Writing

What if the common effort to recapture youth isn’t as much about wanting to be young again (okay, sometimes it is), but about going back to that fork in the time-space continuum where development was arrested by vivcus interruptus to recapture the essence of ourselves so that we could enlarge on it?

Want to know what made me consider that highly philosophical question? It was this line from Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto: “Everything that Mr. Hosokawa had ever known or suspected about the way life worked had been proved to him to be incorrect these past months.” Patchett goes on to say what Hosokawa had thought before being taken captive by terrorists, and how those perceptions proved deceptive. My musing on a longstanding belief about life came from that one line. Patchett’s sentence is a great example of a thematic statement that doesn’t stand out as one, but still prompted me to think thematically about life.

Theme isn’t an easy concept to deal with, so I’ll defer to Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel, in the chapter on premise, where he says that fiction expresses “… our greatest purposes and our deepest desires. They are us. That is the reason we identify with them.” The best treatment of a writer’s premise or theme doesn’t stand out like a road sign, but rises to the surface like champagne bubbles — something to think about while revising …

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