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Grounding your comic with theme

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, July 3, 2020

A narrative theme can be described as the core meaning or message behind your story. It serves to tell your audience what your story is about as well laying groundwork for its context. Establishing the core theme early can help you keep your comic grounded and focused as you begin to unfold your characters and plots.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to have one core thematic idea, at least in the beginning. SOme common themes include, “coming of age”, “individuality vs the collective” or “scientific discovery vs religious devotion”. A clear theme also informs the overarching conflict of the story from which your characters can explore both within themselves and their interactions with each other as well as how they relate to the theme.

Communicating the theme of your comic is often done through your choice of first or third person perspectives, including the voice of your narrator. Will the focus be on an individual’s struggle with the core theme or will you use multiple points of view to explore a range of perspectives on the theme? Your theme should sit at the core of each character’s struggle/conflict.

For example, the theme, “crisis of faith” can be applied in this way.

“A rogue paladin whose faith is challenged when they are joined by a travelling companion who performs what look to be miracles, but belongs to a different religious order or warring country.”

This character is having a “crisis of faith” and is further challenged when faced with a miracle performed by the enemy. Has their god forsaken them? Did they fight for the wrong side? How do they now relate to an adversary after witnessing their covenant with their god? These are all interesting questions all springing from the core thematic concept.

A narrative theme grounds the story in reality, the genre providing the execution and set of expectations of how to explore that theme. Once your audience knows what the theme of your story is, they can evaluate the character’s motivations and interactions and come to their own conclusions.

What is the theme of your story?Let us know in the comment section below! And join us on Sunday evening for our Quackchat at 5:30PM(EST)!

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Corruption at 2:58AM, July 5, 2020

@ozoneocean, I have thought about that. Things like "Trust but verify" might have two people working together, but throw in a betrayal latter. I personally like how focusing on a core theme helps you focus a plot, and direct the sub-plots to boost it. If you don't do this, then sub-plots can act counter to the theme of the main plot, leaving people to wonder what the story is about.

Banes at 12:38PM, July 3, 2020

Love it! Having some kind of cohesion to the story helps people walk away feeling like they got something out of it. I've always thought that "theme" is more invisible, and something to be felt but not literally understood or literally expressed. Or if it is expressed, it's kind of hidden under the surface. At least sometimes. Other times it's more clearly stated. People can find their own themes that are completely different than what the author was thinking. Having said that, what you're saying here is fascinating! Deep food for thought as always!

Ozoneocean at 9:07AM, July 3, 2020

What if you want to keep the theme a bit of a secret and reveal it later down the line?

marcorossi at 7:53AM, July 3, 2020

I often see the idea that there are common "big themes" explored in narrative. But it seems to me that, if the theme is the meaning of a narrative, then it must be individual, not just the 9732th version of the same Big Theme like love vs society or similar. I think that what happens is that each author has his own, personal theme (or themes), but as these themes are emotional other than logical, and must be expressed in a way that is comprehensible to others, the individual theme must be expressed through common emotive tropes, e.g. the rejection of a certain ideology might be expressed by a conflict with a father figure, but the theme is the rejection of that specific ideology, not the general father-son relational problems.

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