On themes and dinosaur bones

I’ve written almost three novels now, but I’ve never consciously developed a story’s theme as I was writing it. I always felt a little guilty about that, because everyone tells me that theme is one of those things that binds a story together. Like grammar, or pacing, or dialogue tags.

My current work in progress is at 69k words (dude) and I’m at the start of the final confrontation scene. I’m having a moment of what I could call writer’s block, except I don’t feel blocked—I feel more like an archaeologist who’s revealed a small part of the skeleton and is dusting away at it with a little brush to reveal HOLY CRAP IT’S A FREAKING DINOSAUR!

The final scene of my book: an artist's impression (image from Wiki commons)

The final scene of my book: an artist’s impression (image from Wiki commons)

The reason I wouldn’t call it writer’s block has a couple of elements:

1. I know which characters are involved in the scene, and what the inter-personal dynamics are.

2. I know who is going to win and what the final outcome will be.

What I don’t have yet is the how. How are they going to win? I’ve been pondering this for a couple of days, and it dawned on me that the other thing I know about the scene is that I want them to win not by dint of awesome superpowers (I write urban fantasy, so there are a few of those kicking around) but by virtue of accessing the part of them that is human.

And then I realised tonight, HOLY CRAPBISCUITS! THAT’S MY BOOK’S THEME!

In fact, it’s been a theme of all three of my books—both of Isla’s stories and this latest one (which is about a different character).

My books are about people struggling with what it is to be human and other, and to become an adult, all at the same time. And that’s kind of cool.

Although maybe not for my characters.

As is often the case, Chuck Wendig says it best. (Check out point three: apparently I don’t have to feel bad about not writing it in consciously after all. Phew!)

Now excuse me—I have to go back to dusting these dinosaur bones.

2 Comments on “On themes and dinosaur bones”

  1. Stacey Nash says:

    69K DUDE. Have an awesome adventure.

    It’s a little exciting to discover the theme of one’s story and doesn’t sound like you have many bones left to uncover. The themes of my (all now three) books have all came about without conscious thought too. It’s funny by the end of the drafting, I sit back, look at my work, and say holy cow there’s my theme.

    Pantsers unite.

    • I’m not really a pantser. I’m closer to a plotter, although there are clearly pantsing elements or I wouldn’t be in my current predicament. But my notes for this scene just say “final confrontation between X and Y”. WAH!

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