Sunday, February 07, 2021

The Weekend Writer: Using Theme To Help With Writing

Wow, folks, once again it's been a year since I've done a Weekend Writer post.  However, I've been inspired on this subject recently and have a few planned.

This week's inspiration came from a virtual talk author Sharon Dukett gave last month about her memoir No Rules. Oh, you missed it? Lucky you. The Blackstone Library in Branford, Connecticut, which sponsored the event, has made it available on YouTube.

I was really struck by something Dukett said about theme. Now I have written before about how I think many people--writers, reviewers, people who write book marketing copy--don't have a good grasp of what theme is. They use it to mean subject, while some of us think theme has more to do with a world view that adds another level of meaning to a story. Dukett said something that I think supports my argument.

At one point, she explained, she was working with a 170,000 word draft, which she needed to cut down to no more than 100,000 words. How did she do it? She used theme. She realized that the theme she was working with was her own awakening to feminism. She eliminated anything that didn't relate to that.

Notice that she did not say that the theme of her book was feminism. That is a subject so vast it would not have helped her do what she needed to do. She said the theme of the book was her own awakening to feminism, a much narrower concept and one that has a specific meaning in the context of her life. Presumably, it helped her give her memoir a shape that it wouldn't have had if she had just been writing about what happened to her, one event after another.

Theme can help you, Weekend Writers, if you understand what it is.

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