On Writing: How I start, or “Where do the ideas come from?” (fiction)

This will be the first post in a series of posts where I talk about my writing process. Not that I think my process is all that great, but just in case people wonder. Perhaps it might help someone who is trying to get into writing.

I write non-fiction and fiction. Today I’ll talk about fiction. I’ll talk about non-fiction in another post.

I am a theme-driven writer. My goal when I write a fictional story is to give a message to the reader. Everything else about the story is built around that theme. For example, I wrote a short story recently for an anthology. The theme of the story is about love; love lost, love regained and love redeemed. That’s the story. That’s the message I want the reader to get.

I think that “theme” is perhaps the least understood of the common story elements. Everyone is pretty comfortable with “plot” or “setting” or “character.” Probably the second most misunderstood element of a story is “conflict” but if you asked ten people what the “theme” of Lord of the Rings was, you’d probably get at least nine different answers.

Since theme is so difficult to get across, and people will disagree about theme, many authors go right on to plot and let the theme sort of meander around. Some of the greatest book series of my life have had no discernable theme. Whatever theme they seem to have shifts over time until by the fourth book the lessons of the first book are frequently not merely forgotten, but actively undermined.

But to me theme is what it’s all about. I want to write meaningful stories that make people think about the universe, themselves and their place in the universe. And that’s what theme allows you to do. When I’m writing I deliberately reinforce my themes in dialog, in plot and in character development. While I know that the reader may not be able to answer the question “what was the theme?” I like to think that at some subconscious level, my message gets through.

Next up, conflict.


About seandgolden

Husband, father, author
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