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Restoration and Repair

Besides dead malls, my other current obsession, which is slowly creeping into my work-in-progress, is the “restoration and repair” genre on YouTube. People take old junk, from metal Tonka toys to antique radios to padlocks, refinish them, and make them like new. While I don’t quite get why you’d spend two weeks and a hundred dollars give a cheap broken toy a makeover, they’re satisfying to watch. Kind of like visual ASMR.

One of the themes of the book is that civilization is changing. That change feels like a decline. As the old falls into ruin people desperately cling to the past, terrified of the vast unknown that the future represents. It’s very much a Gothic literature trope.

Restoration and Repair

I’ve added a character who does these sorts of restorations as a hobby. He visits flea markets, yard sales, and estate sales and finds these objects that seem ruined beyond repair. Then he takes them home and breathes new life into them. He finds the beauty in them, and painstakingly resurrects them. He doesn’t fear the future, or cling too sentimentally to the past. The character is mean to symbolize balance, and represent hope. He has tools, and knowledge, and is able to adapt to the changing conditions.

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Injecting Theme Into the Setting

Although I’ve already written a lot about theme, particularly in relation to character development. Today I want to go over how I’ve been injecting theme into the setting. It’s a quick-and-dirty way to reinforce what you’re trying to say with your story. Theme can help get your point across without beating the reader over the head with your message, as long as you’re not heavy-handed.

Injecting Theme Into the Setting

To quickly recap, the thematic statement is the position you as the writer are taking toward some issues. For exmaple, say your theme is about humanity versus nature. Your authorial stance is that nature always wins in the end. As a result, settings elements need to reflect that. There might be a location that’s been abandoned completely overgrown. Even a fancy country club with a full-time maintenance staff could have a few blades of grass coming up between the flagstones.

Each character will have a thematic stance, representing different opinions. You can mirror this by having different locations and setting elements reflect various opinions or approaches. Humanity is winning over nature, for example, because we’ve built these structures that can withstand the elements. We control the climate and keep the wilderness at bay. Another location might come with a set of events, like a hurricane or winter storm, that shows the destructive forces of nature.

To make all of this work, locations with a thematic stance should evoke an emotional response. Your description of events should have the reader saying “yay, humanity is winning” or “oh no, that’s another point in favor of nature!”. It’s possible to have locations and setting elements create emotional responses in your characters. This should reflect their thematic stances. A character on the side of nature will be pleased to see the weeds growing through the cracks in the parting lot. Someone else could be appalled at the same sight because they’re invested in the dominance of humanity. It all weaves together to create imagery, drama, and potential conflict.

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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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Thematic Character Arcs

In the previous post I discussed thematic stance, how each character can bring a different perspective to the topic of a theme. All of the characters might agree that a war needs to be fought. One might do so out of patriotism, another from their compassion toward the oppressed, and a third out of opportunistic impulses. The stances in relation to authorial statements regarding the theme can be used to develop thematic character arcs.

Thematic Character Arcs

To put this in the simplest terms, the characters will make decisions based on their stance toward the theme. Using the theme of war from the example above, one character might enlist in the Army out of a sense of patriotic duty. The second character might be a journalist, and go into an area that’s been ravaged by the enemy, to show the human cost and drum up popular support for the war. That third character might be an arms dealer, or a black marketeer, someone in a position to profit from a prolonged conflict.

If my authorial statement is that war is bad, then they are in conflict. Their character arcs will have bad things happen to them as a direct result of their choices to support the war. Other characters that oppose the war will fare better, because they align with the authorial physics of the setting. Is it a bit heavy-handed? It can be. The objective is to write it in a way that doesn’t feel forced.

Progress Report: Day 13

  • Today is day 13 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 658 words, bringing the total to 8,943.
  • That puts me 1,743 words ahead of my target goal, based on writing 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working on the finale of the book.

Notes

  • It’s weird writing the final scenes of the book. I came up with what I think is a good ending. It pulls the characters together, lets them fully be who they are, and it puts a bow on the major themes running through the book. Ultimately I think that it will make it easier to write the rest of the book. I have a clearer idea of who these people are, and I know where I’m going.
  • Life is marginally better today. The seasonal affective disorder isn’t kicking as hard because we’ve had a lot of snow, and that makes the world marginally lighter and brighter. My arthritis flareup seems to have passed as well, knock wood. Less than two weeks to go until Midwinter, and the days start getting longer again.

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Thematic Concept vs Thematic Statement

Today I want to talk about theme. Specifically, I want to go over the distinction between thematic concept vs thematic statement. I also want to discuss what I call thematic stance, which leads into the next post where I talk about developing character arcs. It’s my expectation that most of you have already tuned out at this point, but I’m going to carry on anyway.

Thematic Concept vs Thematic Statement

Thematic concept is what the reader thinks the work is about. Some people say that this has nothing to do with the writer and everything to do with the reader. I’m a firm believer in John Dewey’s statement that the work is not complete until it is experienced by someone other than the artist. The reader brings their own lenses and filters, and contextualizes a work for themselves. I still think that the writer has to provide something for the reader to interpret.

The thematic statement is what the work has to stay about the topic of the theme. Think about a book or movie review. The topic is the work that the reviewer will be discussing. The thematic statement would be whether they liked it or not, and why. It’s the promotion of an opinion, basically. If you’re making an argument with your thematic statement, hopefully the reader will carry that sense of thematic concept with them and agree with you. Even if they don’t, the presentation of your argument should be compelling, providing food for thought and some entertainment value.

Finally, we have thematic stance. This is what each character in the story thinks, or represents, about the theme. They might agree with the authorial statement. They could disagree. In a basic theme of good versus evil the characters might all agree that it’s better to be good, but each could have a separate opinion on why. Are they good because they find good deeds to be emotionally rewarding? Do they fear the legal repercussions of wrongful actions? Is their behavior driven by religious convictions? It’s a means of exploring the theme within the story.

Progress Report: Day 12

  • Today is day 12 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 0 words, keeping the total at 8,285.
  • That still puts me 1,685 words ahead of my target goal, based on adding 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working on final scene of the book. I had an idea as to how the story should end. This helps, because I can circle back and write toward that.

Notes

  • Truth bomb: seasonal affective disorder and arthritis are kicking my ass this week. I’m glad we’re only a couple of weeks away from midwinter, when the days will begin getting longer and the quality of daylight will start to improve. This is why I try to get ahead when I can. Then when I need a day to vegetate, like yesterday, I don’t need to stress about it and beat myself up.
  • Seriously, I spent all day yesterday listening to Christmas music and doing crossword puzzles. It wasn’t chill or fun or relaxing, it was merely convalescent.
  • I’m contemplating adding a “what I’m reading” section to the site. While I’m tempted to drop it in here as a quick note, I’m not sure it will always be relevant. I may add it as an irregular feature to the site, its own category.

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