General Discussion

THEMES
Banes at 12:51PM, July 15, 2014
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Greetings once again, Ducks!

Quackcast 180 (maybe?):

For an upcoming Quackcast, we'd like to talk about THEMES. And no, we're not talking about those fine musical tracks that Gunwallace has been making for our comics.

Theme is what's happening below the surface plot of a story. Plot is the events that happen, and theme is what it all means.

Do you think about theme in your work? How do you approach it? Do you put it in there on purpose, or does it happen by accident? Do you think a theme is necessary? What are some of the themes in your comics?

Let's talk theme!
ozoneocean at 7:54PM, July 15, 2014
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This is complex isn't it?
Do many comics have themes that underlie them? Do we ever notice them?
 
The overriding theme in Pinky TA is that her bum is awesome!
 
No, really, the theme in Pinky TA  is pretty simple: war stuff looks cool, but war is crap and hurts people.
I do think about the theme in my work, it affects how I portray events and affects the direction of the plot and the reactions of characters, their personalities etc. Mainly you see it more obviously in the downer endings of most chapters. It's in there deliberitely and has been since the comic was first devised years and years ago, back in the late ‘90s.
 
I don’t think themes are necessary for a comic. That's up to the writer- if they want to give something extra to their readers, maybe it makes the creator feel a bit more intelectual to have a theme in there (haha), or it can help determine the story direction and help with the writing process; so you haven't just got character arcs, plot points, or storylines driving things, you have an overall theme providing a bit of an infleunce over all those factors as well.
 
Is it clever to have a theme in your work?
I think themes will show up by themselves by accident at some point anyway, so it's a good idea to be aware of that aspect of your work and consiously direct them yourself. I don't think it makes your work clever if you do deliberitely have them though- it depends on what they are and how you handle them. I think I'm reasonably unsubtle with the way I use mine, and “war is bad and hurst people” is hardly original or groundbreaking.
As I said before though they can provide another layer for the reader to bite into and that can make the work more satisfying, like a good Simposons episode!
 
Bad themes are when the creator is leading the reader too much, being too didactic… dictatating. I love Terry Pratchette's Discworld novels, but sometimes he's like that in a few of his stories, especially the later ones.
Themes can be handled badly as well when they're too mysterious… when the writer is being too clever and artistic (wanky), making it too hard to grasp, being too ambiguous.
 
bejjinks at 8:32PM, July 15, 2014
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I think themes are absolutely essential to a story. However, most people confuse the theme with the moral of the story. Themes don't have to be morals. It's possible to write a story that has the theme of purple, or you could write a story about the theme of Monday. You have to have a theme to tie the story together, to metaphorically wrap it all up in a nice package.

Themes need to be multisided though. When themes are handled badly is when they are one sided such as is often seen in the didactic stories that give the message “I'm right, all other sides are stupid.” If you cannot appreciate or respect the other sides of a theme, then you are going to be a bad writer. Even a theme such as “war is bad” can be didactic if you can't appreciate or respect those people who may want war. What about the oppressed that see no way to gain freedom except through war? What about the starving families whose men have become mercenaries in order to feed their children? Even the greedy kings that want to possess lands don't see themselves as evil. They see themselves as benevolent superiors helping the inferiors of that foreign land.

Think of theme in musical terms. Especially if you look at classical works of music such as Beethoven, they will have a theme such as bom-bom-bom-BOM that they repeat throughout the whole piece and they don't repeat it the same way every time but they make variations of the same theme. This is how the theme works in a story. It doesn't have to be anything more complicated than bom-bom-bom-BOM. It just has to be repeated with a multitude of variations on the same theme, i.e. various sides of the same issue.
bejjinks at 9:42PM, July 15, 2014
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I got to thinking that someone might ask, “How do you make a story theme out of purple?”

Start by thinking about the variations of purple. Purple comes in pinkish purples, bluish purples, greyish purples, and other variations. Now think of the symbolisms of purple and the emotions of purple. Now write a story such as. . .

Royal King Purple desires the lady Hot Passion Purple but he has a rival in the man called Dark Indigo Purple. You could be didactic and insist that Royal King Purple ought to have the lady on account of how noble and pure he is but can you appreciate and respect why the lady might prefer the rugged strength, the depth, and the wisdom of Dark Indigo Purple.

Now you have a story with the theme “The Variations of Purple.”

Granted, this will probably be a short story. There's only so much one can say about purple. However, this does prove that it is possible to write a story with a very simple theme.
ozoneocean at 10:06PM, July 15, 2014
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I think the purple example would be more of a stylistic element than a theme
 
I think themes in stories are more about repeating ideas that are expanded upon within the text… Like you say bejjinks; looked at from different angles… approached in different ways, in that way your musical theme comparrison is very apt!
-Like ideas of identity, mortality, love, compassion, morality, fidelity, patrotisim, betrayel, beleif- those kinds of things often come up in stories. Hamlet is pretty famous for being about mortality.
 
A story with a moral is a story with a single main, didactic theme.
 
Stories can have multiple themes too.
 
Genejoke at 7:23AM, July 16, 2014
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Themes in my comics…
Yeah…

People are assholes I guess.  Or maybe shit happens.
I don't write with a theme in mind most of the time.  A concept maybe, a plot perhaps but underlying themes…  they are a side effect.  
Bad things happen to good people a lot in my comics, try to avoid the black and white good bad thing, so shades of grey is a theme I guess.  Not being a deep writer, perhaps I'm not the best person to offer suggestions.
Call Me Tom at 8:00AM, July 16, 2014
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Right themes in my comics….. well Todd Sweets is a stupid mash up of me drawing stuff and hopeing that I can make a comic out of it, so I'm quite sure that that “comic” dosen't have a theme. However The understanding is bulit around a theme! Without going into to much detal as its just starting and I don't want to explain anything about whats going on yet, its theme is “the hero is the person telling the story, no matter what they do” I can't realy go into more detal than that.
Banes at 9:10AM, July 16, 2014
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I treat each issue in my comic as a separate story. Sometimes I create a theme on purpose, and there are some themes that show up by accident.

When I write a longer, more complicated story and plan it out using the…um…the Banes Method, I figure out a theme. It might change as I go, but I have at least a vague notion to start with.

The stories where I think about theme hold together much better than the ones where I don't. If I know what the whole story represents, I can hint at it throughout the story, and like magic, the ending is much more powerful (as long as that ending has some connection to the theme).

Bejjinks, you make a great point about examining themes from as many sides as possible. Like if it's a theme of “Respecting one another in a relationship is what makes it work”, you could have several different couples, and explore that theme in different ways. For instance, sometimes one person is respectful and the other isn't. Or maybe someone respects/admires the other person, but is too immature or maybe destructive themselves (self respect!). Or…well, a theme can be explored in infinite ways.

Themes don't need to be “groundbreaking” or original or complex, either. It's the emotional stuff that's going on below the surface. Getting too fancy with it doesn't seem very useful…hey, unless you want to, of course! There aren't any RULES, per se.

And again, if the theme is too obvious, the story becomes didactic and lame. It should be subtle - which is a good argument for having your themes show up by accident, at least in a first draft.

Characters generally don't have to SAY the theme (“Prejudice is bad. It damages all of us, dude!”). It's there to be FELT.
last edited on July 16, 2014 2:27PM
Banes at 9:14AM, July 16, 2014
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When I thumbed through my comic archive, I was surprised to see a couple themes that I had no idea were there. Or maybe “recurring motifs”, rather than themes:

The big one was that whenever my characters left the safety of the store where they work, they had someone wanting to force them into marriage. It happened several times during the series. THAT was an interesting peek into my own psyche…
last edited on July 16, 2014 2:26PM
Kota at 9:46AM, July 16, 2014
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Great topic! Errant Apprentice has a theme. The entire series is about learning to be open minded and accepting of others. It's also about learning that when others are right, if doesn't mean that you're wrong.
Mailbox Rocketship? If it has a theme, it's about finding your own path and not accepting what fate has in store.
Kota Otan
http://www.drunkduck.com/Mailbox_Rocketship/
and
http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Errant_Apprentice/
-
“If Jeff Bridges is stupid enough to do this, I'M stupid enough to do this!”
bravo1102 at 6:17AM, July 17, 2014
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Despite my best efforts themes creep in there.  It's often what I'm thinking about at the time of writing.  But my primary them is …boobs are great.  Get over yourselves censors show them nipples!  There are other too.  I step back and read the archives as the English major I once was and come up with all kinds of things I wasn't aware of during the creative process.

The whole theme of the robofemoids is objectification of women, sex and gender roles.  The grey guys literally reduce women to faceless set of breats.  But that objectification can destroy you as the poor Russians find out.  And then in “Battle” the robofemoids empower themselves and turn the tables.  There's also a subtheme of tolerance.  

The other comics touch on the nature of insanity and experience challenging a belief system.  There's also how people experience screwy situations.  And female empowerment with Belinda Brandon playing characters that can take care of herself and are not a damsel in distress.  If there is rescuing to be done she's capable of doing it herself.  And she's stacked.  I really gotta give more time to not so well endowed characters.

And did I mention that boobs are great and we should get over out hang-ups about them?  Nudity is nothing to be ashamed of.  That probably goes under the sex and gender heading.  
Banes at 1:58PM, July 18, 2014
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The most important themes to me overall are life lessons I've picked up or am in the process of learning.

I like to put things I've learned or experienced about life, love and all that stuff into my comic. Eventually I'd love to have whatever wisdom I've gained represented in there. Things I've learned or am learning, especially about psychological health, growing up, happiness, relations between men and women, and all that stuff. Those are themes I like to put in my stories.

But a lot of the time I ignore that and go for the funny instead. Exploring my characters' sometimes unhealthy relationships is a quandary for me sometimes. I mean, characters don't need to be perfect, but when I see a relationship that's unhealthy - I put a lot of thought into what to do with it. Sometimes I ignore it and go for the conflict and the jokes. But a lot of it is stuff I fell will have to be addressed at some point, as the characters grow.

One theme I like is the concept of perception vs reality. “Your life is whatever you think it is.” That's a theme I play with a lot. I also like themes to do with male/female instincts and emotions and how they conflict with or impact decisions we make.
KimLuster at 7:44PM, July 19, 2014
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Themes!  I think it's one of those things I learned the definition of in Lit. classes and ignored ever since.  Still, I think, when we do create a narrative work, we do tend to have a theme in mind, even if it's subconcious.  In my comic ‘The Godstrain’, there is an over-arching theme, the same theme we see in movies like ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Inception’.  What is Real?  What is the nature of reality, and how much can we know about it? 
.
Even so, I can say I don't like pegion-holing anything to that level.  Truthfully, no narrative story deals with just a single theme, and I'd like to think my story can't really be nailed down like that.  Even though the ‘Nature of Reality’ is the metaplot driver idea I had, I sorta hope a reader would not have known that unless I told them (which I've done several times).  There so much more: love, family, sacrifice, and fighting adversity to mytery questions: scientific, metaphysical, and spiritual.
.
I guess what I'm sort of trying to say is, while thinking about story elements like Theme is very helpful, and can aid you in keeping a piece of work on track, we have to be careful less we ‘notice’ it too much.  An analogy: if you ever become interested in music theory (chords, scales, modes…) you can find yourself, when listening to a song, dissecting it, figuring out what key it's in, what the progression is, and if you do that too hard, you might just miss the sheer emotion of the music, what the musician felt, or wants you to feel.  In music and in stories, it's good (and helpful) to be aware of the ‘parts’ but we should always be careful to not let them get in way :)
last edited on July 20, 2014 6:07AM
KimLuster at 7:51PM, July 19, 2014
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Addendum: I hope I didn't come across as suggesting the topic of this discussion shouldn't be themes.  No, I really do think it's beneficial to know about the ‘parts’.   But we should see them as ‘tools’, suggestions, really, and we're free to bend and break them if the story calls for it.  Music comparison: don't be afraid of accidentals!
Banes at 6:22PM, July 20, 2014
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Awesome thoughts, KL! We've already recorded the ‘Cast, but I’m going to see if ozone wants to reconvene and add these in.
KimLuster at 8:31AM, July 21, 2014
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Banes wrote:
Awesome thoughts, KL! We've already recorded the ‘Cast, but I’m going to see if ozone wants to reconvene and add these in.
haha that's what I get for not paying attention - hey don't worry about redoing.  That's too much work on you guys - and it won't hurt my feelings :)
ozoneocean at 9:21AM, July 21, 2014
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It's not too much work :)
We can manage, we're two Quackcasts ahead so we're doing well and have space for some leeway!
 
KimLuster at 9:31AM, July 21, 2014
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Haha, well if you find my post helpful then… but if you discover it's too hard (or even a little hard) to redo, it's totally okay if you leave it out – Thanks!
irrevenant at 6:04AM, July 29, 2014
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Some advice I once read about themes is that you shouldn't necessarily start out with one in mind but that, once your story is written, you'll probably be able to look back and identify themes in your work, then you can edit it with the theme in mind to draw that out more in the final text.

Firstly: Holy carp, that's all one sentence!? o_O  Siriously?  Bad writing!  Bad!

Secondly, it's obviously talking about novel-writing, so I don't know to what extent it applies to a serial work like a webcomic.  That probably depends on how far ahead you plan your webcomic.

Having said that, I've planned my webcomic a long way ahead and I suppose I should probably think about themes. xD
ozoneocean at 9:47PM, July 29, 2014
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I wouldn't think that would be a good way to go unless you wanted to keep things really, really subtle and you had no agenda or plan… sort of like applying a whole lot of colours to a canvas and then drawing lines around interesting shapes- very artistic and organic! Even naturalistic.
 
Or, a less favourable comparrison: The Texas sharpshooter- fire randomly in all directions and then draw targets around all the bullet holes. Automatic bullseye!
 

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