Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finding the Central Theme

As an agent, one of the most frustrating things to face is reading a story that completely derails and heads in several different directions instead of the one established in the initial premise. In other words, what the author pitched is not what the story ends up being about. Now this issue is not so much about the plotters versus the pantsters, but more of the writer understanding what he or she wants to write about.

As you work on any story, you have several elements to keep in mind, and each of these come back to the same basics we all learned when we first were learning about literature: Character, setting, plot and theme. Obviously the author needs to make sure there is character consistency. The setting needs to me something clear to the reader. The plot needs to have forward motion and be organized. But, it is this last element, writer tend to miss. In the end, the writer is trying to deal with too many issues in too small of a space. As a result, the story becomes a jumbled mess.

When a writer starts a story, it is crucial the writer begins with a single theme to focus on. Yes, these can be abstract and literature sounding. Ideas can include things such as: How does a woman in today's culture deal with maintaing feminity in a corporate America? Or... How do characters that are so different find a way to maintain their individualism and yet become a couple?

Once this is established, the entire story has to continually focus back on this. The plot needs to work like a shephard guiding the characters through the wilds but always knowing the path leads to the corral at the end of the day, or for the characters, achieving that theme. The characters need to grow scene by scene, taking in what they learn and moving on. And most importantly, the plot needs to always stay on that path.

What I have seen lately are proposals that set up a great theme that makes me really want to read and yet when I open up the pages of the story, it never even addresses the theme. I am sure this is happening for a lot of you as you read this.

Your task this week is to edit. Go through the story and identify if the scenes you have inserted, the lot twists, subplots and complications actually support the theme. In most cases you will find that these elements simply are plot devices to link two scenes. Not necessary.

Your job is to create a streamlined story. We don't want it full of fluff. We don't want it full of mindless chatter. If it doesn't support your theme, it goes away!


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