Writing With Themes

I’m around 75% of the way through the first draft of my YA dystopian novel. I think I have around 25,000 words to go and things are really starting to ramp up for my fabricated teenagers. I’m up to the writing equivalent of the page-turner chapters; That final handful where the devil himself couldn’t bargain you into putting the book down.

Writing is re-writing, so it’s all far from over. I’ve done second drafts of some of the earlier chapters and so I’ll pick it up from there at the end of the month. This will be the third book I’ve written in a year, and this one has come about a lot faster. It could be because I’m writing YA this time, or third-person past tense — but I’d like to think that it’s due to my increased discipline. Maybe.

As I’m reflecting on the novel and the first draft, I’ve been looking back to the pages of notes that I originally scrawled out for this project. I’d love to post a picture, because they’re quite aesthetically pleasing (for me) — but I can’t find a section that doesn’t contain some major plot revelation or intense character detail.

The interesting part is a small box in the top right-hand corner of my page that contains a list of themes that I want to capture in the novel. I don’t know if other writers think that way, or whether they’re quite happy to let a story be a story, but as someone who’s spent more of his life analysing media than creating it, themes always dance around my focus.

I think both ways are “correct”, and I also think that the only incorrect way of writing is not writing.

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Some of my themes are typical of both YA and dystopian books. Friendship, coming-of-age and rebellion make up my YA themes — I think I’ve managed to hit two out of three well enough so that some fantasised reviewer would use those words in a write-up. Anxiety, government control and propaganda round out my dystopian themes, two of which are done in a fairly traditional way, with my method of presenting propaganda being a little different.

Then there’s a couple of other themes that are influenced by my own personal interests, experiences and recurring elements throughout anything I’ve ever written. In particular these are homelessness, activism and mental health. Three elements which I hope will serve to make my YA dystopian story a slightly more unique read.

It’s not really for me to decide if I’ve conveyed these themes, or done them the justice of scope and realism — but I’ve done my best in the initial draft and can only improve on the foundation I’ve laid for them.

As I’ve written each chapter I’ve thought about which of the themes are featured and how I can best develop that theme. This is on top of narrative and character development of course, I’m not just pushing them to the side in favour of a hypothetical pseudo-intellectual (me, basically me) looking at my work and saying:

“Well oh yes he conveyed that very well, and you really get a sense for both this and that in the later chapters. He writes as though he’s very passionate about X, and yet crippled by Y — 7/10.”

But it’s my themes that have kept me grounded, they’ve stopped me from going off on an improvised “jazz” tangent at least three times a week. If I come up with an idea for a scene that wasn’t in my original plot-outline, I ask myself if it serves to develop one of my themes. If it does then I go ahead and write it, and if it doesn’t then I let it slip away into the back of my mind — to eventually float into the ether of ideas that may reoccur on a later project.

If you’re a writer and you have a current WIP, I challenge you to look for the themes of your work. They’re definitely there — I doubt anyone has ever written anything that doesn’t have a single tangible theme. It could simply be love, death or good vs evil — or something more specific like totalitarianism, abstinence or Buddhism.

I just know that focusing on my themes has really helped me to write this novel. They’ve kept me grounded when I’ve wanted to stray somewhere that only served to have fun with one of the characters. Or when I’ve been lead by my mind to write a scene that would inevitably end up being deleted for lack of relevance; Of which I’ll probably still have many.

Let’s use the comment section on this post to talk themes — Yeah, let’s use the social element for once. I’d love to hear about the themes of your current WIP or a past work you’ve completed, as they’re a great way of providing insight about your narrative without giving away plot details and spoilers.

You can also tell me to shut up, (in the comments, please don’t call me to yell) and tell me that to focus on themes is unnecessarily pretentious, and that kind of thinking gets in the way of a good story — I’m no authority and I love to be criticised.

I almost wrote “punish me ;)” there — what’s wrong with me!?

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Today I’m starting a chapter that I’ve been looking forward to for some time, as I’m allowing myself to be surreal and explore a lot of dream imagery. I’ve written the rest of the novel by-the-numbers, but made sure to telegraph a plot device that would allow me one chapter of bizarre near-horror for my protagonists.

I wish I could elaborate — which I suppose the feeling of wanting to is driving me to finish this project so I can one day share it with the world. So I best get back to it. Have brilliant Friday’s, and be good to someone you don’t know while you’re out and about in this world.


Today is Friday, August 17th and the Spyro Reignited Trilogy has been delayed until November. Oh well.

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4 thoughts on “Writing With Themes

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! Your passion for writing is very clear and I admire it! I’ve often wondered how people can manage to write a book. Do you have a great imagination or great discipline? Perhaps a bit of both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It means a lot that you took the time to read this.
      I’ve always had a vivid imagination, which lead to a lot of unfinished projects, but in the last year I’ve developed a discipline and stronger work-ethic. But yes, writing is definitely both 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post! As I’ve been writing more and more, I’ve become more interested in elements of writing I never used to think about ~ such as having an outline or a theme.

    I’m not sure if this would qualify as a theme, but my current WIPs (there’s 2) involve ethical dilemmas. Stuff that can be seen as right or wrong, depending on where you look at it from. Making difficult ethical choices is coming up in my writing more and more.

    Thanks for following my writing blog! I’m pretty happy that I found yours.

    Take care,
    Yari

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and replying!

      Oh that definitely is a theme, and a great one at that! I love a good ethical dilemma (in fiction, irl they can be fairly heavy and not enjoyable) and characters that consider both sides before making a choice are often more well-rounded figures.

      Best of luck with your writing!

      Liked by 1 person

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