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The Message in Stories

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 15, 2022
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There is no story without a theme. Even when written without anything prepared in terms of a message, a story will always give people things to think about and messages drawn from how the story was set up and how it was resolved (if at all).

So I don't think that when critics complain that the story had no theme they are being clear with the complaint: I believe that either the theme is confusing or it isn't clear or it simply has been botched. How is a theme botched?

I would suggest that it's when the story sets up one theme which then the resolution or something in the resolution undermines it. For example, a story that seeks to show women as empowered, strong individuals with a personality might botch the theme if the women characters are constantly seeking to validate themselves or are constantly antagonistic against men (which implies insecurity). Bonus points if in order to upstage the women the story surrounds them with caricatures of men rather than actual male characters.

If that doesn't occur, then the story has a theme, either clear or hidden somewhere within it. It could be something as simple as “good always triumphs” or “friendship always wins”. Or it could be something quite complicated, such as a simple thing (e.g. “war is hell”) being a frame for a lot more nuanced relevant themes (e.g. “grief manifests in many forms” or “it's not so easy to tell who is evil and who is not” or explore abuse vs trauma, and more).

Even stories written for pleasure (or self pleasure?) have themes: self-insert fanfiction usually will have the theme of “the OC that is the new MC is awesome in every way and the IP's MC loves them.” It may not be a nuanced theme, but it is a theme!

In short, the theme is whatever we're exploring as creators in our stories. Even if we aren't setting out to have a theme, it just is born together with the story as soon as we've created the characters and plot.

So what is your story's theme?

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comment

anonymous?

hushicho at 3:47PM, Jan. 15, 2022

I also had to say, on a purely me note, I'm so grateful for you using that gif. I had never seen it before, but I'm using it now! It's great.

hushicho at 3:46PM, Jan. 15, 2022

While sometimes useful to examine, themes and motifs can also at times be impossible to put into words. They're often multifaceted and, as in the example of Mark Twain's writing, not always helpful to or for anyone or anything. Sometimes, trying to find a theme or a moral or something like that will result in a work being bowdlerized, which isn't usually beneficial. But there is one thing especially true here: l'enfer, c'est les autres.

BitterBadger at 1:22PM, Jan. 15, 2022

Working on more than one story, a few of them are: "The failures of your past have no bearing on the future", "Friends can help us overcome our shortcomings" and "No good deed goes unpunished".

usedbooks at 4:38AM, Jan. 15, 2022

"Friendship can weather any storm." With minor themes of "It's never too late for redemption" and "People are complicated."

bravo1102 at 3:39AM, Jan. 15, 2022

Hell is other people. But I still hold with Mark Twain's words at the beginning of Huckleberry Finn. "Persons attempting to find motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a plot will be banished; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be shot."

Corruption at 2:43AM, Jan. 15, 2022

"What society considers good can be harmful to those who live outside it." That is the theme of the story I want to make. Another way of putting it is "For those to who the shadow are a shelter, the Light of society can be harmful"

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:12AM, Jan. 15, 2022

I feel like all of the different themes of my stories collectively boils down to this common theme of "don't take yourself or the world around you too seriously."^^

Ozoneocean at 11:21PM, Jan. 14, 2022

War is hell. That's moine ^_^


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