Theme in Writing
Panel at Orycon 34 (2012) #orycon

Richard A. Lovett, Annie Bellet, Aimee C. Amodio, Wandy N. Wagner

·      Definitions of theme
o   Avoidance in plot drift
o   Underlying philosophy
·      What are the themes in Firefly
o   Brainstorm
§  Independence
§  Family
§  Space opera
§  Aftermath of war
§  Responsibility
o   Joss Whedon says…
§  Strong women
·      What is the difference between theme and plot?
o   AA: Theme is the philosophical subtext. Plot is what actually happens.
§  Firefly: What is right and wrong (Is it OK to steal medicine?)
o   AB: From an English Major perspective: Theme is about the philosophical underpinning.
§  In GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, the theme is about power, and what power does to people. What happens if you lose control of it?
o   RL: Setting is a place where you can work out their themes, e.g. Fantasy is a place to work out themes of power. Setting and theme can tie together, but they are separate.
·      Can you put a theme into something without intending to?
o   AB: Yes, I don’t think about theme as I write. I discover it afterwards. And it’s possible to go back and strengthen those themes.
·      How do you find your theme?
o   WW: When I’m about halfway through my first draft, I find myself asking ‘What’s really important?’ With one book, it was about relationship with nature. As I recognized theme, I used it going forward and went back and played it up.
o   AA: Usually not until I’ve put some distance between myself and the writing. While I am writing, I am too into the story part.
o   RL: I usually don’t know until I’m two thirds or more of the way through.
·      You’ve found a theme (e.g. responsibility), how do you use that information to improve your story?
o   AA: It’s got to end with it, and it’s got to telegraph it in the beginning.
o   WW: there’s a pattern with jokes: tell, tell, spin. It’s similar with theme: you must not overdo it. It should be just enough.
o   AB: If you’re too focused on theme, then you may not focus enough on the story. Also, none of my first readers read for theme, which makes it challenging to find issues with theme.
o   RL: Overdoing it is worse than underdoing it.
·      How many questions are too many themes?
o   AB: It depends on your work.
§  If you’re writing a 5,000 word short story, it should be very few.
§  Also, no more themes than you have points of view.
§  If you a 150,000 word novel, you can go big.
o   AA: Everything doesn’t have to be the main theme. Thinking back to Firefly, it doesn’t always have to be survival. It can also be family.
o   RL: If I could write a novel, I’d write it in first-person. I’d probably have more than one theme. But clutter is really dangerous. Beginning writers either clutter, or they beat it over the head, or they ignore it.
·      What is the difference between theme and moral?
o   Fables have a moral, but is that the same as a theme?
o   RL: It’s like philosophical discussion vs. philosophical conclusions.
o   GMMR explores what power does, but by the consequences he assigned to characters, he’s also making conclusions.
·      WW: A theme is what is inside a story and is shedding a light on an aspect of the human condition.