Theme—Day 31

OK, I like epics. Little did I suspect, however, that the discussion of theme here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction would reach epic proportions! 😉

Before we get started, I want to highlight Linda Wichman’s novel, Legend of the Emerald Rose, one of the books nominated for a Christy Award in the Visionary category.

I have not read this novel yet, but determined today to add it to my “To Be Read” list. Wichman describes her writing as historical fantasy romance, or was that fantasy historical romance? At any rate, a quick look at the synopsis gave me an idea of what she means. It looks like an intriguing read, somewhat along the line of Bryan Davis’s upcoming book Eye of the Oracle.

Eye of the Oracle

And now, back to our scheduled programming. In connection to yesterday’s look at developing a theme based on the writer’s passionate beliefs, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at Donald Maass’s comments on “Right and Wrong in the Novel,” found in Writing the Breakout Novel:

One problem that can keep a novel from breaking out is a failure to draw a clear line between good and bad.

I find that statement especially interesting because I hear more and more instruction in Christian writing circles to blur the lines between good and bad as a way to portray three-dimensional characters.

Maass continues.

Contemporay life offers few opportunities to take a strong moral stand, but fiction deals heavily with such moments.

Now, I am not arguing for a revival of the moral fable or the novel of social conscience so popular in the nineteenth century … Certainly contemporary novels can have a sharp moral tone … but in general as readers we prefer that fiction make its point in a restrained rather than overt fashion. (emphasis added)

It’s almost the same as that old commercial: never let them see you sweat. Not that we don’t—just don’t let them see you make it happen.

This is why theme needs careful crafting. Without working to make it appear effortless, an author can end up creating a story with an obvious, simplistic point or none at all—the two most common results of the current neglect of theme, in my opinion.

But I digress. To make sure the novel’s theme has that restrained quality, Maass says the message must be kept out of the mouth of the author and communicated by the actions of the characters.

If you think about it, what many breakout authors are doing is boxing their characters into a situation with inescapable moral choices and dilemmas. Facing a moral choice is perhaps one of the most powerful conflicts any novel can present. (emphasis again added).

I’ll leave that last statement for you to cogitate.

Published in: on May 6, 2006 at 12:49 pm  Comments (7)  
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