Theme—Day 29

So how do I go about crafting the theme?

No, this is not a quote from one of my earlier posts, though I think I said something similar. Rather, it is from sci fi/fantasy writer Stuart Stockton’s blog, The Jerkrenak’s Den. I have no idea where Stuart’s discussion will lead, but I like to see Christian writers wrestling with this subject. In my opinion, it is long overdue.

My own contemplations continue to center on Donald Maass’s book, Writing the Breakout Novel (Writer’s Digest Books), specifically about character motivation.

Maass challenges writers to an interesting exercise. Take one of your scenes, he says, and list the motivations of your focal character. The way to get to that list is by asking, “Why is this character here?” Not, Why does the plot require this character to be here? More like, What motivates this character to be here? You’re looking for the character’s “inner reasons.”

This list might include things like

  • he’s cold
  • he’s lonely
  • he’s looking for a friend
  • he wants someone to help him
  • he’s afraid
  • he needs to discover the truth
  • he’s insecure
  • he believes this is his last chance for acceptance and love
  • he thinks love is his salvation
  • Maass says that typically this motivation list puts the higher values at the bottom. So the exercise is to reverse the order and rewrite the scene with the higher value as the conscious motivating factor.

    Motivating your characters according to higher values … adds passion to action.

    Enhancing motivation is what you will need to do if you want to give your protagonist the inner fire that, developed step-by-step through your manuscript, rsults in a powerful theme.

    He adds an important caution—overplaying high motives or making them too obvious will be counterproductive. Then this conclusion to the section:

    Understatement and restraint are the watchwords. However, when high motives are made believable and integral to a given character, it is like sending a ten thousand volt electric current through your novel. It will light it up like a beacon in the dark.

    I doubt if Maass realizes that last image is so nearly like the one Jesus used in regard to a Christian showing his faith to the culture in which he lives. But here is exactly why I think theme is so important. I want my novel to light up like a beacon because I believe God wants me to be a beacon. Character motivation seems to be a big part of accomplishing that.

    Published in: on May 3, 2006 at 11:06 am  Comments (8)  
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