How do you arrive at a theme for your story?
You can have an idea in mind. For example, you may want to write a story about love being stronger than hate. So, now all you have to do is craft a story around this idea.
Sometimes you have a great idea for a story but don’t have the foggiest idea what the theme might be. You can write your story and in the creation discover your theme.
But, what happens when you’ve completed your story and still can’t see a theme? It can just be a matter of going back over your work examining it for the idea or ideas that stands out. You can have more than one theme in your story. Suppose your action adventure story featuring a secret agent has him putting himself in harm’s way for others. Then your theme could be sacrifice. Or, what if you write about a heroine who’s husband divorces her leaving her with nothing? She then goes on to dig her way out of poverty to found a successful Internet company. Here your theme could be perseverance in the face of adversity and/ or success is the best revenge.
Is theme really that important? Couldn’t you write a perfectly entertaining piece without worrying about theme? The answer, of course, is yes.
So, why worry about theme? What advantages, if any, does having a theme provide?
Theme is important for several reasons:
• Theme helps you organize your plot around a central coherent idea and avoids just having a random collection of actions.
• Your main character’s world view as shown by what he does in your story is better expressed around a central theme.
• If your goal is to express a main idea in your writing they you’ll want to have that theme before setting out.
• A theme can elevate your writing. By writing around a theme you can create more memorable characters and plots.
I’m sure if you thought it over, you could come up with several more reasons.
For more on theme check out my previous blogs “Find Your Theme” and “What’s Your Theme?”.
In 2012 President Obama said the following in response to a question on why he cautiously consulted advisors: “It’s the Heisenberg principle. Me asking the question changes the answer.” In recent years it's become common to use the language of quantum physics in popular discourse. I suppose the metaphorical use of these terms in our everyday writing and conversation heightens the points we make and, to a certain extent, make us sound more intelligent. Two terms that I think get overworked are the “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle” and “quantum leap”. I guess it's just a pet peeve of mine that prompts me to write this blog. But, I see the popular uses of the terms as a gross miss-appropriation of what they actually mean. You may be thinking right about now, “Hey, Bob, pump the brakes. It’s no biggie. It’s just a metaphor.” But, hear me out. I think I have a valid point. Let’s take a closer look at the two terms.
In the popular TV series, “Numbers”, the crime solving mathematician protagonist, Charlie Eppes, says this in one episode: “You’ve observed the robbers. They know it. That will change their actions.” He’s making a loose reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in that statement. OK, so just what is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle? Well, to answer the question we must first address quantum mechanics. It’s the branch of physics that deals with those extremely small particles. You know, electrons, protons, neutrons, and other subatomic particles. They don’t just behave like tiny marbles in the sand. They live in a world of probability and uncertainty. It’s a counterintuitive land where particles can be in one place at one instance and a entirely different location in the next instance. In this “Bizzaro World” of science the Heisenberg Principle states that the better you know the position of a particle, the less you know it's momentum and vice versa. So, it's not that observing a particle changes it, but more of an uncertainty of your measurement based on the strange probabilistic nature of the particle itself.
The other term that we hear a lot of is “quantum leap”. An advertisement in a popular science magazine touted a bedwarmer by stating its, “a quantum leap forward from electric blankets.” And, I’m sure most of us have watched a popular sci-fi TV program entitled “Quantum Leap” in which the hero is doomed to “leap” into the bodies of various characters during different eras from week to week. We almost intuitively know that the term implies some fantastic change. In fact, the “Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style” defines quantum leap as “a sudden extensive change (usually an improvement) in the rate of progress”.
So, what’s the real story? The simple model of an atom can help explain this. In the model the nucleus, consisting of protons and neutrons, is surrounded by electrons orbiting like planets around a sun. The electrons can move from one orbit to another instantaneously. Each orbit is at a discrete level or quantum state and when the electron moves it leaps from one quantum state to another. Think of arising in the morning, showering, dressing, getting your coffee then suddenly finding yourself at your desk at work twenty miles away. But, each of those quantum states is a very small change. Counter to the popular definition then, a quantum leap is sudden but pretty small.
The irony in all of this is that the metaphors, touting dramatic ideas, actually find their origins in rather pedestrian although complex concepts. I’m certain I won’t change anyone’s usage of these terms. They are too well imbedded in the popular culture. But, it’s always nice to know the origins of those science terms when we use them in non-science writing.
Well, there you have it. My rant is ended. It wasn’t too painful, I hope.