A Position, Not a Theme

More politically minded novelists like to use popular themes of the day in order to make points pro or con. In the charged atmosphere of America today, when almost anything is a cause calling for blind fervor, a writer can feel that a hot-button issue will inject drama into the proceedings. Yet when an issue such as abortion becomes a major character’s crusade, an author may be dismayed by how flat the scenes are. How could that happen, when neighbors in real life are ready to tear out each other’s lawn?

The first step in answering that question lies in the spillover from the real world into fiction. Since novels tend to be realistic in order to allay a reader’s disbelief, the views of a flag-waving character may borrow largely from what a reader has learned, possibly ad nauseam, on the news. As the phrase goes, familiarity breeds contempt. As soon as I, as an example, recognize a certain line of cant, I start skimming immediately. I read novels to get away from that stuff.

Equally as important is recognizing that the power of any theme correlates with its progressive development. If an issue does not change over the course of the book, there is no dramatic movement. If a character keeps saying the same stuff in every scene, no matter what the content is, a reader will become bored. Yes, we know how you feel, so when is that going to become more interesting? 

As with any story element, a character needs to begin at Point A and progress to Point Z with a theme. If you wish to write about abortion, for example, you should figure out a starting point and an ending point during the initial outline stage. How do the events inside the novel impact the character’s thinking about the issue? That is the only way a novelist can be original on such a well-worn topic.

Framing the matter this way leads to a final and most decisive step: making the issue personal. Only when you focus hard enough on one individual’s travails during the heart-rending course of what to do with an unborn child will you make the reader care. The snap answers you see on the screen will pale to their usual political banality, and you will discover for real why the issue is so contentious. It’s because the experience is so painful. That’s what you should be writing about.

Exercise: Contrary to real life, where men arrogate the right to somehow know what an expectant mother is feeling, a male novelist has to work a lot harder. You should read a variety of works, even if you don’t agree with their viewpoints. You should talk to women—your relatives, professional counselors, and/or young teenagers. Then come back and tell us what your heart learned.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ―Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.