Welcome to the final Creative Write with Me post for this series. Today, we’ll talk about theme and how it pertains to creative writing and reading. Before we get into it, I wanted to say that the future posts labelled Creative Write with Me are going to be original stories written by me from prompts that I find on the internet. I’ll link all the sources I use for prompts at the bottom of each post. Each story is going to contain an afterthought that discusses the elements I used in each story. These elements are characters, plot, setting, point of view, style, and theme. I am looking forward to sharing my writing with you, so I hope you are excited to read something I’ve written creatively.
Without further ado, let’s talk about theme. I found theme to be the hardest part of critical analysis and I still struggle with it. For that reason, I’m going to talk about books that I’ve analyzed in the past as examples.
So, a literary theme is “a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature” (Lit Charts, theme). These ideas are meant to “express broader truths about the human experience” (Lit Charts). Many of the novels that we all love explore broad themes such as love or death and make a commentary on them using the plot and characters in the story. There is usually more than one theme in a story, depending on the complexity of the story itself.
The book that I’m going to use as an example is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien because many people know the story. One of the key themes of this trilogy appears to be a quest. However, scholars have determined this to be a reversed quest because Frodo is looking to destroy a treasure rather than find one (an example of a true quest in search of treasure would be The Hobbit, where the dwarves and Bilbo are seeking to reclaim the treasure of Erebor). Though the most prominent theme that I can see in The Lord of the Rings is the struggle between good and evil. Frodo’s internal struggle with the Ring shows this while he journeys to destroy it, and it’s shown externally in the multiple battles that occur between Orcs (forces of evil) and Elves and Men (the forces of good). Both in the novels and the movies by Peter Jackson, we can visually see (or visualize) the dark and light contrast between the two forces.
The final theme that I’ll talk about in The Lord of the Rings is the danger of power. As I’m more familiar with the movies, I’ll talk about moments that we can see in those that support this theme. Near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir attempts to take the Ring from Frodo. In doing this, he has no problem with hurting or possibly killing Frodo to get the Ring even though he’d said he would protect Frodo. We also see Frodo understanding the danger of power each time he uses the Ring. The shadow-world around Frodo becomes darker each time he puts the Ring on. Though Frodo resists, it pulls him further and further until he believes the only way to resist is to give up on his quest. The Ring represents ultimate evil power and tempts its bearer with some of that power in exchange for allowing Sauron to find the Ring and allow evil to win. However, anyone who has finished the book or seen the end of the movies knows good prevails.
That took longer than I planned, but I had fun putting my literary analysis hat back on. Now let’s talk about how to see the themes in our own creative writing work. This is harder, but after some practise it gets easier. How I see it, there are two ways to do this.
The first one is to ignore theme and simply write your story. In the revision process, you can look back and see if you can see any themes that have naturally occurred. Once you can see a theme or two, you can strengthen the theme by adding and changing aspects of the story. For instance, I wrote a creative non-fiction piece about my sister and me when we were growing up. I wasn’t thinking about themes before I wrote it but looking back I can see the themes of sisterhood, learning to work together, and learning to solve problems. There is also the theme of nature, because that played a large role in our lives growing up. In the revision process and through workshopping this piece with my classmates, I could build upon these themes and come out the end of that class with a powerful story that spoke to core beliefs and values that many humans have: love, friendship, and family.
The second method is to have a theme picked out in brainstorming or plotting (before writing anything). If you want to talk about themes surrounding love, for example, you might lean towards writing something in the romance genre. Creating two characters that will respond the way you need them to will help to bring your commentary to life in a natural way. Perhaps you’re going to tell the story of a young widow and her new boyfriend to show that love is not a singular experience, but one that can heal and help us move forward out of grief. That’s a simple theme, but most of the ones in romance books are. Maybe you want to show the faults that exist within the governments of our time, so you write about a world ruled by dictatorship and have your main character strive towards tearing down their governing structure. The Hunger Games follows this theme. Literary themes move more towards moral and ethical questions and concepts, so you might choose to talk about life and death by writing about the world’s last–dying–vampire and the imminent extinction of their species. This would allow you to explore the internal theme of facing your own death while looking at what it means to be alive. Is a vampire alive, or does the fact that someone has reanimated it prove that it isn’t alive? These are fundamental questions that many of us have regularly enough for us to connect with them. With literary themes, it is more impactful when there isn’t a solid answer at the end of the story. These fundamental questions don’t need answers; they only need to be asked and dwelled upon.
After giving as many examples as I can think of to help you, I think I’m going to say that we’re done with theme. It’s a complex monster that is difficult to put into a simple cage. The definition that I provided from Lit Charts at the beginning of this post doesn’t encompass the enormity and importance themes provide in the stories we read.
As always, thank you all for reading! This is the last post dealing with elements of writing, so look forward to some original, brand new stories written just for you! I mentioned above and I’ll say it again, they’ll have the Creative Write with Me title. Thank you and have a great day!
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