Thursday, March 11, 2010

Secondary Themes; or, What's That Lurking In The Background

This week, I finally found the secondary theme of my current WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne. The primary theme, of course, is that of family, and of working together to accomplish a common goal. But this week, with only a very small amount of the story left to tell, I discovered that the story had a secondary theme all along: the end of childhood.

When I told this to a friend of mine, her reaction was, "Oh, that's sad." And yes, in a way it is. But it's also happy and exciting, because the end of childhood is also the beginning of adulthood, and of the adventures that go along with that. It's also a little scary, because with adulthood comes the obligation to take responsibility for one's actions, and for the consequences of those actions. Some of my characters are about to learn about that in a big way, when one of their actions has consequences much more far-reaching -- yet closer to home -- than they bargained for. Another character is already regretting a decision regarding the priorities in their life. (And yes, I am playing a little fast and loose with the pronouns here -- sorry!)

When I am planning a story, the primary theme usually reveals itself fairly quickly. But the secondary theme(s) can be trickier; some stories never reveal one at all. Are they necessary? Well, not in the strictest sense. You can tell a story with just one theme. It's just not as interesting. Is it okay to start writing the story not knowing what the secondary theme is? Yes! Sometimes you can't find it until you've had time to sit down and play with your characters and get to know them better, see how they interact with each other.

And then, sometimes (much to my annoyance), a tertiary character who was only ever planned to be around for one or two scenes wanders in and serves it up on a platter for you. (Yep, that's what happened this time around.)

So how do other folks work with themes? Are they there for you, up front, or do you find them as you go along?


Housekeeping: Starting next week (hopefully), it looks like we'll be changing gears a little bit here at The Melt-Ink Pot. We're going to try selecting a theme each week, and having each of us posting our take on the subject. Looks like fun to me! Stay tuned!