Defining And Using Theme
Love vs Politics
Part 1 of Defining and Using Theme, listing some previous posts that are relevant to Theme, is here:
We touched on A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford in Part 1, continuing the focus from Dialogue Part 14 - Writing Inner Dialogue of Person Being Lied To.
This post is an exercise in generating usable theme statements, not advocating a particular political position. But a theme-statement is, grammatically, an advocating of a position. So read this with your writer's glasses on.
A Spoonful of Magic
is mostly about liars in love, so it can be regarded as about lies and when it is OK to use them. Think about today's politics and the first element that leaps out at you is Fake News. Thus family politics is a related subject.
Theme is a very slippery element in Art, generally, but fiction writing in particular. As in music, "theme" usually means some snippet that is repeated at specific and identifiable points throughout the piece.
Themes recur in real history, as we discussed in the context of the cycle of Generations based on the signs Pluto (profound change) occupies during each 20 years. Some themes surface only once or twice in thousands of years, and are predicted by some prophetic writing.
Here is a video about the spooky similarity between the story of Purim and the story of Hitler, using a mystical explanation, illustrating how the motif of "recurring theme" has to be used in novels because it happens in reality - you need the drumbeat of recurrence to create verisimilitude.
And it is exactly that in fiction, too, slippery and recurring in spooky ways.
Theme is especially prominent in Romance genres in general, and in Paranormal and Science Fiction Romance as well.
When you mix genres (any 2 or 3 genres), the "spoonful of magic" you use to make the ingredients blend is Theme.
Each genre is defined by theme -- and subdivided by "setting" (time, place, social status) -- and then subdivided by plot type (Mystery, Romance, Western, Horror).
For example, the theme of "Horror Genre" is "Evil Can Not Be Conquered." The theme of Romance is "Love Conquers All." It is very hard to mix those two equally, so in any work of art, one of those themes must yield (at least temporarily) to the other - as in "Happily Ever After, For Now." Evil can be sequestered, buried, put away for centuries or millennia but it can not be vanquished and will come back to bite you.
Theme is the invisible substance of the lens through which a Character views reality, life, the universe and everything. Theme both limits and expands that view.
So "theme" essentially defines the market, the target audience.
Thus publishers create "imprints" or "lines" of product all with the same core theme, artfully dressed up in surface detail to seem like different products, but appealing to and satisfying a specific readership.
One example is Star Trek's intro: "...where no man has gone before." The change in target audience is illustrated in the shift of that phrase to: "...where no one has gone before." Either way, exploration of the unknown is both the theme of Science Fiction and of Westerns -- face it, of Romance, too.
Mastering "theme" is the writer's secret to selling fiction, and so to become a prolific writer, a person should ponder what the theme of their own life is, then look at other people's lives and find themes (by reading biographies.)
The other source of themes that tie our society and civilization together is, of course, Headlines.
The business of journalists is to spot themes surfacing in society and present a "narrative" that defines and sticks to that theme. The result is reinforcement.
As mentioned previously in these blogs, one of the ties that bind us together is the animal-human (the basic primate) need to "blend in" and to "belong" to a Group (Tribe, Pack, Gang, Family). There is a physiological basis in the brain -- a compartment of sorts -- designed to contain this material of unconscious assumptions, and beliefs that are not your own, but that you MUST adopt to survive.
We, on a basic animal level, believe what those who protect us believe. We oppose, fight, reject, and run from other beliefs because those "ideas" impact the neurological system of the body as "killing blows."
Once cemented, our "theme" of life, the outline and framework, a honeycomb of compartments designed to contain information, and the lens through which we "see" and understand survival, can not be distorted, shifted, altered, expanded, or re-shaped without experiencing "fear-fight-flight" responses.
For some of us in the most recent generation (say, born from the 1990's on) politics has been one of the honeycomb compartment walls that defines the notion of the shape of reality and how to survive in it.
The conflict (essence of story, remember?) is rooted in the theme of "what is government" -- and also, "what is the purpose of government." Ayn Rand was catapulted to world fame with her work, Atlas Shrugged, as she challenged the basic notion that groups of humans "need" government.
We have, as humans (consider how your Aliens might differ) generated various governmental forms for maybe 8 or 9 thousand years (maybe more).
Perhaps we could do without government, but apparently we don't want to.
So we always make one.
And then we make another.
And then we fight over which is better -- trying our best to kill everyone who disagrees about the role of government in reality.
Government ranges from Head of Family living in a cave to Kings governing an area with arable land and peasants working it, to High Kings like King Arthur, to Emperors like Napoleon or Alexander The Great.
Hitting on the Emperor model, humans lived centuries with wars, conquering, and marrying off daughters to opposing Kings to make peace by blending families.
Then in the 1700's the world rebelled and overthrew monarchs, after weakening their position with the "Constitutional Monarchy."
And a bunch of nerdy science fiction writers geeked out on Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman Literature and then-modern French thinkers works and wrote the Constitution of the United States of America, a work that should have won a Hugo for inspired imagination. It is all about humans governing themselves -- neither democracy or republic, but self-governing hybrid form.
It was the first (and so far pretty much the only) attempt to structure a government that is prevented from governing but works just fine, thank you.
Many Amendments have diluted that structure so it is hard to discern now. For example, having Senators elected by a State's voters instead of by State Legislators dilutes the "Republic" aspect and emphasizes the "Democracy" aspect.
The US Constitution was constructed by two opposing groups that agreed to disagree. Remember, one group wanted George Washington to be King! The other wanted to do away with the very concept King in favor of a chief department manager (president).
The disagreement was over the essential question of "what is government for?"
They did not have time to argue that into the ground and hammer out an answer because the little, individually weak, colonies were about to be "brought back under the King's control" by the British soldiers. They needed a "common defense" so that's what they created.
As a result of not being able to settle this question of the function of government (in the abstract) thus chasing away everyone who couldn't adopt this "unconscious assumption" as part of their mental honeycomb structure, we currently have BOTH types of believers in the USA voting public and at the family dinner table.
As with the warring Kings of old, families have intermarried.
Thus Thanksgiving Dinner has become the flashpoint of the year for many families, a political holiday with warring factions married.
No longer does everyone in the family adopt the Head of Family's politics. Conflict ensues, and conflict is not so great for digestion.
An entire Romance novel could unfold during Thanksgiving Day! (and has).
There is the situation where you bring home a new boyfriend for Thanksgiving Dinner, the political discussion erupts, and the new boyfriend is revealed -- either outspoken and opposing the Head of Household, or obviously trying to blend in and pretend to adopt the acceptable view. Which is lie, and which is true?
Dating a guy is one thing - bringing him home another thing altogether, as that brings into play the physiological human need to belong, to be accepted.
As a result, today we have Internet Dating Sites dedicated to matching people by political persuasion (this is serious business; I know marriages that broke up over politics.)
But most people who argue one side or the other at Thanksgiving Dinner are advocating or opposing answers, plans of action, and maybe the rightness or wrongness of the answer to the problem chosen for Headlines by Journalists.
Defining the unconscious parts of these cemented, do-or-die, political positions on issues is the job of the fiction writer -- not the journalist who is trying to write non-fiction.
The fiction writer, the artist, can pare away the surface decoration and reveal the eternal truths behind beliefs -- e.g. describe the honeycomb size, shape, transparency, and above all the structural integrity and strength of the "belief system" for which my "honeycomb" metaphor stands.
So stating the theme of these family arguments is our job as purveyors of the Happily Ever After Ending.
There are many (many-many) correct answers to the question, "What are they really arguing about?"
Each correct answer can be a theme for a novel, or series of novels, in any genre. It all depends on how you state the theme.
The writer's (artist's) trick is taking a complex mess of a warring situation and reducing it to its bare bones, then re-clothing it in different packaging.
So let's just take some examples, and then you can search for other examples in the Headlines.
THEME: "Humans want government to protect them from Alien Invaders."
THEME: "Humans want government to protect them from their fellow citizens."
THEME: "Humans want government to protect them from government."
Each of these stated purposes is, of course, subject to "mission creep." As a result, dinner table arguments wander far afield.
One reason family dinner table arguments wander is simply that to remain a protected member of the family (i.e. to survive) you must all be organizing your perceptions of the world into the same (or very similar) honeycomb structures.
Of course, famously, the Battle of the Sexes
and the Battle of the Generations,
happen because the honeycomb shapes that we brutally hammer our information into are just a bit different.
So by gender and generation, we believe differently even if we think alike.
For the most part, Romance happens within a generation. Yes, there are exceptions where Soul Mates have been scattered more than 20 years apart in age, and that makes for High Drama, but we usually dream of a mate closer in age.
So look at those 3 theme variants on the nature and purpose of Government.
Consider how imicible Romance and Horror genres are, why they conflict.
Romance belongs to the broad theme bundle, "Love Conquers All."
Horror belongs to the broad theme bundle, "Evil Can Not Be Conquered."
Now look at the statements about government in terms of conquering not protecting.
THEME: Government exists to Conquer Alien Invaders.
THEME: Government exists to Conquer unruly fellow citizens.
THEME: Government exists to be Conquered by its citizens.
THEME: Love Conquers All.
THEME: Evil Can Not Be Conquered.
This juxtaposition reveals a whole set of themes that are (perhaps) uniquely human.
THEME: Humans Must Conquer.
Being human, living a human life is ultimately about conquering. The "what" that is to be conquered is irrelevant. As long as there is something to pretend to conquer, we're fine with it, even if it is another human.
Now, suppose your Aliens do not have that seminal urge to "conquer" -- that is, do not dominate (human sexuality seems these days to pivot on dominance).
Consider meeting up with a species that simply does not "versus" -- does not oppose, or contest.
Since, for human audiences, the essence of story is conflict, could you write about a Romance with an Alien without conflict? What cognitive dissonance would that create? Could you make art out of lack of conflict?
Romance is not about sexuality -- the experience of the physical body. Romance is about the Soul.
The physical body has a mind of its own. Sexually fueled urges to dominate, conquer, exhibit prowess, and be the "Defender" of all that's mine form one side of the argument raging in all humans (think about your Aliens with different biology).
The Soul has a mind of its own. The Soul yearns for its mate, fueled by beliefs about the Soul's own unique identity and thus what size-and-shape the mating identity would take.
In other words, the body seeks to hammer other bodies into a desired shape, obedience and compliance, while the Soul seeks that which is already shaped to fit.
The Soul has no desire to conflict, conquer, prevail or dominate.
The body must conflict, conquer, prevail AND dominate.
The Soul and the body are are odds, just as Romance and Horror genre themes are at odds.
Conflict is the nature of this Reality -- the Soul seeks a different reality.
Love conquers All, not by reshaping by force but by inspiring the body to reshape itself.
Love makes the body want to fit in, not hammer down.
Love changes what the body wants.
Change is the essence of plot, and plot (conflict) is the essence of story.
So the details of how a Conquering Hero is Domesticated by Love is our Novel of Choice.
Do we want to "be protected" -- or do we want to "be the protector."
Is "government" about "protecting" or is it about mating, fitting together, covering each other's flanks?
The Happily Ever After Ending is about attaining a joined-state in marriage, in mating, where the two individuals become "one" -- become unconquerable, impervious to "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."
If "unconquerable" is the essence of "Evil," is it also the essence of "Love?"
If "Politics" is about hammering others into accepting your beliefs so you can be a "member of the Group" and satisfy the body's urge to belong, is "Love" the urge to belong without hammering or being hammered?
To generate even more fascinating questions about the nature of Love and the impact of Romance, ponder the Biblical Commandment to Love The Lord Your God With All Your Heart and All Your Strength."
If Love Conquers All, and you Love God, then what happens?
There is so much more to be said on Love vs. Politics. Say it in fiction.