Recurring Themes

It’s been fun to write something on a predetermined theme for the forthcoming Drugstore Books essay and short story showcase, By Prescription Only. The idea for ‘privacy’ was suggested to me while knocking back a few dandelion and burdocks. It’s not something I’d have thought of and I had nothing in mind, let alone already written for it, but I think it’s relevant to our times and has broad appeal, so I’m glad we rolled with it.

While thumbing through the BBC, I stumbled upon this interview with Paul Auster who talks about ‘chance’ and how a childhood incident indelibly imprinted the theme into his consciousness. Auster states that he’s never lived through wars and pestilences, but the fatal lightning strike he witnessed as a fourteen year old kid has never left him and has become his own personal war experience.

Of course, writers don’t just get tied up with one theme their whole careers (Auster also explores other ideas, including one close to my own heart, identity). Most writers have a string of (often interconnected) themes that come to define them and their work: Hemingway with his love, war , wilderness and loss; Camus’ meditations on alienation, rebellion, and the Absurd; Kafka drawn to disorientation and helplessness, often played out in settings of surreal bureaucracies.

In my own writing, identity seems to creep into most stories. Early stuff I wrote seemed to be directly about it. The novel I’m writing at the moment has another theme, but identity is certainly there in no small way now I stop to think about it.  And so does the short story I’ve drafted for By Prescription Only.  Of course the main theme is privacy, or fame, a component of it, to be exact. But if I peel back the skin a little, identity is lurking underneath the surface.

Our attraction to certain themes, even while we pursue other ideas more consciously, says a lot about who we are as writers and as people. As writers, it forms part of that elusive quality they call ‘voice’. As people, it offers a glimpse of the life experiences that have shaped who we are, and it may even hint at life choices we might make in the future.

It’s been said that theme should never be imposed on a story, that it should grow organically from the writer’s subconscious. How true this is I’m unsure. Exploring a theme usually means exploring a counter-theme, the flipside of the same coin, positive and negative charge in conflict to propel the story. That’s clearly not possible without crafting. That said, some of the most exciting moments as a writer are when characters and plot shape the theme without prior cognizance.

Next week, we kick off By Prescription Only, our essay and short story showcase, which will run for six weeks. Be sure to stop by to check it out.

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This entry was posted in Thoughts on Writing, Reading & Books, Writing Craft & Self-Publishing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment

  1. Andrew Oberg
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    That said, some of the most exciting moments as a writer are when characters and plot shape the theme without prior cognizance.

    Hear, hear!

    Interestingly, I find ‘identity’ cropping up in my writing a lot as well. I suppose that as we’re both strangers in a strange land this would come naturally to us, but perhaps this coming naturally to us is what set us on our journeys to becoming strangers in a strange land in the first place.

    And a well-deserved hat tip here to Robert A. Heinlein.

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