This article was originally published in The Writer’s Everything, Issue #011.
While there are countless aspects of writing a story, three stand out above all the others. They are the cornerstones on which fiction stands.
What are they? Plot, characters, and theme.
Two of these three are present in the waking minds of every author. In fact, an author usually falls devoutly into one side or the other.
The first group focuses on the cornerstone of plot. Their stories are all about what, not who. They might outline an entire novel without having any characters developed to inhabit it. You can usually spot such stories because they are “high concept”. They contain unique and original premises that can be summarized in a sentence. What if science brought back the dinosaurs, and they got loose? What if a group of people had to perform a heist within the dreams of their target?
The second group focuses on the cornerstone of characters. It doesn’t necessarily matter to them what happens. At least not right away. The important thing is who it happens to. The characters have to be developed and fleshed out so that the story can happen around them. Imagine a history professor who hunts mystical relics in his spare time. Imagine two performing magicians who outdo each other at every turn, desperately trying to prove who is more convicted to their craft.
The third cornerstone, theme, is often avoided at all costs. Writers don’t like it, and they don’t understand it (usually in reverse order). This is a problem that makes sense. Stories rarely lend themselves to be described with theme the way they can be described with plot and characters.
What if there was a story about how far a man is willing to go for his children, even risking madness in the process? What if there was a story about sacrificing life for a vision, and how far is too far? They sound interesting enough, but with no idea what these stories are about in way of plot and character, you’d be hard- pressed to get anyone to watch them.
So is theme pointless? Absolutely not. In an Arby’s Melt, where characters are the roast beef and plot is the bread, theme is the succulent melted cheese that ties it all together. If you want a story that is meaningful, resonating, and significant, you have to put just as much work into theme as you do the other two cornerstones, if not more.
So beginning in this issue of The Writer’s Everything, I’m going to analyze one story per week with the perspective of discovering the theme and understanding the way it molds and shapes the story.
Now let me be honest. I appreciate theme. I think about it all the time when I’m writing my fiction. However, I am far from an expert in the field. So this is going to be a journey of discovery for us all. If I ever get anything wrong, or miss something of great significance, please feel free to send me an email at QJ@QJMartin.org, and together, we can build each other up in the topic of theme.
Pride and Prejudice
The first movie that I’m going to analyze in this section of The Writer’s Everything is Pride and Prejudice. It seemed apt to choose for my first story analysis a title that included its themes in its very name.
For the purpose of reiteration, the themes of Pride and Prejudice are pride…and prejudice.
Elizabeth Bennet is the prejudiced one in this story, not willing to look past Mr. Darcy’s rich, stuck-up exterior to see the genuinely good person he is on the inside.
Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, is prideful, as clearly stated by Elizabeth. He thinks that both he and Mr. Bingley are above the Bennet family and their immature ways of acting.
These two themes, as well as whether the two main characters can grow past their pride and prejudice, are what motivate every event for the duration of the story.
Pride and Prejudice is a perfect example of the theme informing the story, rather than the other way around.
The Writer’s Everything
This article, as well as many others, have been featured in previous issues of my writing journal, The Writer’s Everything, in which I, along with occasional guest contributors, provide essays, guides, encouragement, motivation, writing prompts, character bio development kits, and anything else that can help you turn your dream of becoming a writer into a reality.
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