English teachers are probably going to cringe, reading this, but I have to speak from writing experience. I may have spoken about this before in a previous post, but it comes to light again, because I have been the eyes and ears to my Dad’s latest novel. He is forging ahead with it not worrying about going back and rewriting things he may not like. He is writing to get that skeleton up, so then he can go back and add in the skin, the body and heart. What came to my mind is a recent conversation we had about theme. It would never have come up unless a my Dad’s college friend had criticized my Dad’s rough draft for having no theme. My father told him, that the theme wasn’t the first thing he thought about. He was right, it shouldn’t be. What is the theme? The theme is basically the deeper underlying hidden meaning behind the piece. For instance, Braveheart is about the power of loves embrace to loosen the strangle of hate. (Sounds very similar to my own movie Derby Double) Now I am not sure what was running through Randall Wallaces head when he wrote this script, but I am sure the first thing he thought about, was the story of William Wallace. Why wouldn’t he? The man is related to him several generations removed. I am sure he knew the story by rote. However, I am sure that the theme didn’t even enter his mind until maybe the third or fourth draft, even if he knew what it was going to be.
So many English teachers spend their time harping on theme in school, that it hinders the writing. It ruins the story. I never think about the theme at all. I let my writing bring the theme into the story on it’s on. If I sat around thinking about what my theme was, I would never get any writing done. When you write a script, you start with an idea. For me the ideas are followed by images. This is because I am a very visual person. When I read a book, it reads like a movie to me. I see shot after shot. I see the scene or the staged scene in my head. I work backwards from that point and fill in the holes. Besides as a script writer, I let my characters dictate where the story is going. I have no time for themes. In fact, my characters essentially write the themes for me.
This is going to sound weird, but sometimes my writing ideas come from dreams. Yes dreams. I’ve had a few pieces come from my dreams. I either see a production in a dream and I write it, or I see an image. Many years ago, I wrote a coming of age play about a Private Boys School in England, drawn from my own experience attending a Private Boys school in England. The idea came from a very strange dream I had about Prefects, pretty much 7th form kids. One of the Prefects in my dream was a friend of mine’s brother. Prefects are students used as the lower end of the Disciplinary arm of the hierarchy of the School. Their uniforms are different and so are there ties. It was the tie of a Prefect that caught my attention. I studied it in the dream. The dream was real to me. When I woke up the next morning I had an idea. I didn’t have a theme, I had an idea. The theme came out as I wrote the story and it took four drafts to have a theme. What I am saying is that you don’t necessarily need a theme to start. It is not the be all to end all of the story. It is part of the story, but not the whole story. Sometimes there is more than one theme in a story and you don’t realize it. If your original theme doesn’t catch the reader or audience’s attention, another theme will. The writing is never about the theme and the story is never about the theme. The story is about your audience. Your audience always interprets what you write, differently than another person or yourself. If they see one theme, someone else will see something different. If you started with a theme in mind, then remember by the time your writing gets into someone’s hands, that theme may have gone out the window. They may see something totally different than you. My point is start with the Story and don’t get bogged down with themes. Themes are what readers will perceive them to be. Themes are what English teachers force you to concentrate on and that causes writers block. Get away from themes. Let them happen naturally.