Creating Thematic Subplots

Having written a lot about theme recently, I want to break down how I use it while I’m writing. The thematic statement, my authorial message, is sort of like the laws of physics in my story. If the theme is “good versus evil” and I’m making the point that evil is like entropy and always wins in the end, then everything needs to support that conclusion. This includes the stances of the individual characters, and their thematic subplots.

It doesn’t have to be heavy-handed. Working this way allows me to weave different points of view into the story, rather than beating the reader over the head with my own opinion. There can be discussion, though the characters, about the pros and cons, benefits and complications, of various approaches to the theme. It not only generate some build-in conflict, it makes the story about something more than the surface events.

Creating Thematic Subplots

Basically, each major character’s subplot has to be about their stance on the theme. If they believe that good always triumphs, then there are two options. Either their subplot is about how they came to this belief, or that belief has to be test. Because their stance contradicts my authorial stance, they have to lose. They are proven wrong, and their arc ends tragically. They have a change of heart, and things work out because they accept my authorial reality.

When characters align with the thematic statement, then they “go with the flow”. They’ll still have challenges, but those will be based on opposition to my authorial stance. When they triumph, it will because of their own alignment with the thematic statement.

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2 Replies to “Creating Thematic Subplots

  1. I have been following your posts on theme very enthusiastically. I have been experimenting with designs in narrative gaming and realized very few have an intrinsic thematic focus as part of the system. I have further been trying to deal with the difficulty of setting and world building – Which I now recognize works better for me if I use a thematic framework to build my setting.
    Perhaps in a future post you might discuss your views on the relationship between setting and theme.

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