Arthur Miller wrote the theme of his play at the top of every A4 typescript page. It was a constant reminder of what he was writing about. The theme is the purpose of your words. Why are you writing this oeuvre? What do you want to say? Whose thinking and what thinking are you trying to change?
Theme can be reduced to one word. It can often be one of those ‘shun’ words. Arthur Miller might have put ‘persecution’ at the top of each page when he was writing The Crucible. Of course the theme of a play or novel can mean something different to each member of the audience or reader. And it isn’t always necessary to know the theme before we begin writing. Themes can emerge.
The theme then can be developed from one word to one sentence. For example, one might suggest that the theme of Hamlet is ‘procrastination’ but we could elucidate by saying in contemporary terms that ‘slow drivers can cause as much havoc on motorways as rash, impulsive ones’. Then the sentence can be developed further still in the scene and so the play overall. And similarly in the chapter of a novel.
Like the light refracting from a multi-faceted and well cut diamond, the theme should bounce off of every scene or page written and be observed from different angles. That’s where sub-plot comes in. You can develop a sub-plot alongside your main plot. The job of the sub-plot is to throw a different light on your theme. The sub-plot looks at your theme from a different angle. For example, the two characters of Lydia and Wickham in Pride and Prejudice gallop off and are arguably irredeemably proud and prejudiced. Whereas the protagonists Elizabeth and Darcy have the capacity to learn from their flaws. And of course, the sub-plot eventually meets up with the main plot to provide a denouement. Thus plots can be made from themes.
Very often the title will contain the theme. The Crucible? It’s a container in which substances are heated to high temperatures and then evaporate into thin air. Neat when you consider Miller was using the witches of Salem, Massachusetts, as a political analogy for the McCarthy trials of the fifties in America. Artists with certain political sympathies simply disappeared.
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