Thursday, October 22, 2009

Theme Song

When writers talk about theme, especially on message boards and in writing groups, I can almost hear the clucking of tongues. Few readers wish to be chugging along in a story just to be smacked upside the head with overt author preaching. 

It's unlikely anyone is going to find my writing to have great socio-political implications, but I do have a few themes that pop up in one form or another in my writing. Fortunately, they make for rich plots:

1) Something wicked bubbling under a veneer: I find the idea of carefully controlling outward appearances appealing, especially when it's hiding an ugly struggle within. Much of this comes from growing up in a family that really could have stepped right out of a Southern Gothic novel. (I'm talking about my extended family, not my mom and dad, who are stable and borderline boring.) This might explain my obsession with Carson, Flannery, Tennessee, and Truman. I don't write this genre, but I love reading it. 

2) Scandal and public humiliation: I can't pinpoint why this has evolved into such a theme for me. I cringe at witnessing humiliation. When Jan Brady wore her brunette wig to a party and was ridiculed by her classmates, I had to look away. I can't stomach watching auditions for American Idol or any other kind of Shame TV. Awful! Yet here I am, writing a scene in which the main character is outed for past sins on the evening news. 

3) Good/Bad Moms (or a sprinkling of each in one): I don't always write about mother/daughter relationships, but I do so quite a bit. And hopefully no one will read too much into my Bad Mother examples. Oy. It's fiction, people.

Wow, this all sounds kind of heavy. I do try to lighten things with humor and mix it up. Right now, I'm working on something new that is mostly #2, very little  of #3, and the reverse of #1. I didn't set out to write it this way, but here we go again!

What about you? Do you have any elements that keep appearing in your writing?


Amy said...

Family relationships/turmoil are big w/me. Also characters who wrestle w/right and wrong. To me, these are everyday issues and ones I hope readers can relate to.

Jennifer Walkup said...

Interesting question. I agree that no one wants obvious, in your face lessons. That said, I write YA and there is always some type of underlying “growing” theme in my stories. I tend to write complex characters who have to learn something about themselves and grow into their lives, if that makes any sense.

WendyCinNYC said...

Thanks for answering, Amy and Jennifer. It's interesting to see what makes other writers tick!

WendyCinNYC said...
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Melanie Hooyenga said...

I'm such a cliché. My overriding theme seems to be hope. *sigh* The big thing that makes the characters NEED hope is wildly different, but still, it all boils down to hoping things will get better.

I like your themes. You can get a lot of out that.

Lara said...

I LOVE reading about good and bad Moms and mother/daughter relationships. My Mom and I like to do a little thing we call "Mother/Daughter Film Fest" where we rent flicks like "Mildred Pierce" or "Imitation of Life" and hug each other, sobbing, "I would never do that to you, Mommy/ Me neither, Baby!" ...till the mascara from our fake eyelashes runs down and drips on our matching mink-trimmed silk pajamas!

Themes in my writing... hmmm... People being much tougher than they look or otherwise not what they seem.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

i too get so embarressed for people. I have to cover my eyes for fear of watching. :)

WendyCinNYC said...

Melanie--Nothing wrong with hope! Just ask Obama.

Lara--I LOVE the idea of Mother/Daughter Film Fest! Ha! Is Mommy Dearest on that list? I used to love that movie. It made me feel like my mom was awesome.

Shelli--It's sad that I can't even handle it in fiction! And yet, I torture my characters. Weird.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I love mysteries, whether it's a murder mystery or simply something that is mysterious. I love having to figure out what's really going on... ;-))

Allie said...

I think I have a thing for families that are made of up friends/neighbors, etc. - the idea that created families are sometimes stronger than genetic ones.