16 February 2009

Lessons Learned

I thought the Character Clinic (CC101) Joely hosted over the weekend was fabulous! Even though I didn't win anything, I learned a ton about how to build characters and what I like about them - among many other things.

And it's the "other things" that, for some reason, are really churning around in the ol' brain right now.

Two interesting things occurred as a strangely direct result of CC101. One, I'm not prepared to discuss yet. It's still churning, and it ain't turned to butter yet...

The other is the big one for me (a big pain in the ass, that is...): theme. Stories have themes. They just do. Any good story worth the paper or pixels it's printed on, anyway, has a theme, an overriding, overarching thread of wisdom that guides the ultimate outcome. That's how I define it for myself, anyway.

I flat-out SUCK at theme in my own writing.

There are reasons for this.

First of all, I blame the fact that as a reader, I don't like to analyze. I don't like digging for meaning. I hated high school lit classes (and didn't take any in college unless they were in another language). I just about despise what Susan likes to refer to as "great litra-chur", because, dude, I bust my ass all day, every day with job, kids, house, hobbies, etc. I do not want to work when I read -- I just want to be entertained, be lost in another world, be someone else for a while.

Second, I like a story with an adventure best, and that's what I like to write too. My ever-so-logical brain therefore likes to argue: "It's an adventure! It's a quest! We don't need a theme! We just need more monsters!"

Last and most important, I am not a Believer In Things. Maybe I'm overly practical, maybe I'm a die-hard cynic. I don't know. I do know that I don't do god or God or Buddha or Allah or whatever else is out there. If you've stopped by before, you probably already know this.

But it goes deeper than that. And gets weird.

For example, as much as I love a good love story in my adventure or even a well-written romance sans adventure, here's what I believe love actually is:

Ya ready? You're gonna be shaking your head with pity, I guarantee it.

OK, really: Love is...

a biological trick your mind plays on your body to get you to reproduce.

That's it. No cupid. No destiny. No such thing as a soul mate. It's all in the DNA, in other words. All that happy, glowy, goo-goo, ga-ga crap is a mere by-product of a very successful ploy - encoded in your DNA - to ensure that you... make more DNA!

Now isn't that cynical in the extreme? How can someone who believes this at the very deepest core of her being ever write a love story?

Logic says it's impossible. Logic says: Oh, please! Get a grip!

And yet... something about all that reading about character creation this weekend shook something loose somewhere. Don't ask me how, 'cuz I really don't know. And I haven't changed my mind about any of it, but somehow my perception changed.

I think it must have been taking a second look at my favorite characters through other writers' lenses -- Oh, that one's static trait is this! and .... OOOOoooh! It means that! and Heey! He's a Cancer! and so on.

At some point late last night or early this morning, it all shifted and instead of "It's just DNA", I now have "It may just be DNA, but it's going to find you whether you want it to or not."

Makes sense, right? I mean, it happened to me (and if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone...) - I fell in love, I got married and here we are smack dab in the middle of Happily Ever After.

So now I have a theme, at least for Novel #1 with which it fits PERFECTLY (*boggles*):

You can run, but you can't hide. Love is gonna find you whether you like it or not.



Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Actually, I think it was the good folk at Booking Through Thursday who coined Great Lit-ra-Chur, but you are EXACTLY right.

Bethanie said...

Ah, but you are where I saw it first! So there! :D

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

You can run, but you can't hide. This totally cracks me up!

In all seriousness, theme/premise wasn't something I didn't think about consciously until Beautiful Death. There I was playing on the idea of human vs. monster. What could make a human a true "monster" and what made a "monster" more human. Everyone in that story reflects that theme in some way. Zeus is human, but a monster. Isabella is a monster before she begins to transform, and has to learn what a real monster is. Hades, as a monster, is more human than she is at first. etc.

I didn't finish the current incarnation of Rose until AFTER BD. Sadly, until then, I didn't know what my theme was. It was there -- unconsciously -- but once I knew, I could bring it out and highlight it. That helped me more than anything to know which characters to axe and what to keep.

Bethanie said...

Joely, the more I learn about your development as a writer, the more you amaze me -- because the theme in Rose is so THERE! :) As I've said before, it gives me hope for myself, since that's pretty much how I'm feeling about Novel #1 at the moment: it's there, i finally have some inkling of what it is, so now I can work on bringing it out.... which is maybe why I'm suddenly feeling like I have a much better sense of how to construct the plot... hmmmmm....

Anonymous said...

*g* I LOVE your theme for Novel #1, and judging only from what you said about your characters in "Characters by Collision" have to say it fits veeeeerrrah nicely. Great job tackling Theme. ;)

Bethanie said...

Thanks, Soleil! Your CC101 posts actually helped a lot! Thanks for working so hard on them. I really enjoyed reading them!

Jess Howe said...

The thing about 'THEME' always has gotten to me as well; when I was a kid I remember hating English class because I couldn't stand the teacher saying 'what does this tree mean in the poem?' 'what does it mean when he goes down the hill that time?' and so on. I've tried to keep it out of my own writing -- consciously, at any rate. I think themes probably creep in, because you're right; they just seem to do so.

I too just like reading for the hell of it. But have you run into this problem: you're trying to read a book, and all of a sudden you catch yourself picking out the characterization, how the grammar is going, what this or that editor is doing, how their world-building is? Drives me nuts when I do that, but it's hard to stop it...

I liked the character clinic too, by the way. It got me thinking, as I told Joely:)


Bethanie said...

Jess - you know, I think I've tried to keep theme out myself, but I guess I've reached the point where I feel like I need somethnig to help me pull everything together and show the way to The End (my other big problem -- nothing ever ends!). They key thing about figuring out what theme means for me was finding one that makes sense TO ME. I cannot, in other words, write a story using Joely's theme from the Blood and Shadows "Love is the greatest gift and the greatest sacrifice" (I might have that backwards...). As much as I like that theme and like the stories Joely puts together using it, it will never work for me for my own stories because it isn't something I believe in myself. That can't come from me, I guess, because I don't believe it.

This is not to say that I don't write love stories, though! I just have to write them on terms that make sense for me.

I'm rambling... Does that even make sense?

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