Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conference seminar discussion #1 - theme

The first session I went to was given by Linda Seger and discussed theme. (The first part of the session talked about character, but I missed a portion of that due to my pitch session.) Below are some of the gems I picked up from her presentation.

Most themes are about identity on some level - who am I, where am I going, what do I want?

A theme should be active, not static. Use a verb, so that your theme isn't "love," it's "finding love," or "losing love." (Storytelling is about verbs, not nouns.)

Another way of looking at theme is to use a versus statement, such as "identity vs conformity."

She also mentions the first chapter on premise from Lajos Egri's book The Art of Dramatic Writing, which says that your premise (theme) is what your story is trying to prove. For example, the premise of MacBeth is "ruthless ambition leads to destruction." The ruthless ambition is the characteristic of the beginning of the story, the "leads to" is the middle, and the destruction is the ending. Nice way of looking at it.

Then we went through certain stages of life, talking about the most common issue that we humans have to confront at that stage, and what happens if that issue is not confronted and resolved. This is laid out in her book Creating Unforgettable Characters. The point of looking at your character's age and what stage they are supposed to be in is not necessarily just to help you with characterization, but also so that you can see what your readers are likely to be dealing with themselves. Odds are your readers are going to be of similar age to your lead, and will be able to identify with someone going through the same problems they themselves are.

All in all it was a neat seminar, nothing earth-shattering but a few new ways of approaching theme, which is a difficult subject for a lot of writers. She used a lot of examples from film, which was definitely entertaining as well. I felt my time was well spent.

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