Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Theme: Your Story's Hokey Pokey

Hokey Pokey - noun - also known as "What it's all about."

While wandering about the Twitterverse this morning I happened upon This Post by freelance editor Leanne Sype where she discusses what she looks for (as an editor) while working a manuscript.

One of the things she stressed was the Theme of the work.
"You need to believe in your story and its central themes so deeply you can't help but share them with the world."

This topic of themes excites me. Because as many re-writes and revisions that my story has undergone the Theme has remained constant:

Now as I began developing this series it took me a few drafts to realize that not only the entire story arc for the series, but each installment also required its own mini-theme to reinforce the overall idea.

If you've read more than two of my previous blogs you may have gathered that I have written/am querying a Middle Grade Fantasy.

"Middle Grade" has only recently made its way into my vocabulary. It's actually because of my theme(s), and certain very unfortunate things that happen to my characters down the road that I erroneously assumed that my work was Young Adult.

So my theme...I understood from the start that writing a fantasy for kids (of any age) was going to be a challenge. So many great authors have proven that writing for kids can turn you into an overnight sensation (or at least a well-known success) that it seems everyone wants to write for kids so the market is flooded. I knew that I couldn't write for anyone except children - it was that, or try my hand at horror - which is my hope way way WAY in the future.
My characters came to me first. It's in your characters that you find your theme.

Now prepare yourself: You're about to get a glimpse into the raw mind of Colten - it's a strange place.

From the ages of 9 - 12 I secretly wanted to be an Animorph. You remember Animorphs, right? Slug-like aliens subversively taking over planet earth, and our only defense was a group of preteens who could turn into any animal they touched.
I was a huge fan. Like, I would daydream about what animal I would choose for my "battle morph", what bird I would choose to become when we needed to fly on a reconnaissance was intense.
Then came Harry Potter. 'Nuff said.
My point is that fantasy stories for me have always been an immersive experience. If I fall in love with a story I consider myself in it.
Naturally in developing my own world I found myself not only studying it, but also inside of it. (Which, frankly, I couldn't write about a world I couldn't see myself in; that was part of the challenge I faced for four years prior to this idea - finding a world to write about that I loved.)
In children's books - particularly fantasy - it seems almost a prerequisite nowadays to do away with responsible caring adults.
When imagining myself lying to my mother to sneak out of the house and battle aliens as a Leopard - I always had a problem. My mom kept a very watchful eye on me. So for me the logistics of being an Animorph were always muddled.
When I imagined being 11 with a wizard coming to the door and telling my mom that I would be sent away to magic school to be immersed in a culture my mother was completely unfamiliar with - the pain of her imagined breakdown would kill the fantasy (just a bit) for me.
Ultimately I wanted Bianca and Scarlett to come from an environment similar to the one I came from. Should someone else read like I do and become Immersed in the worlds they explore I don't want them thinking (even subconsciously) that Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa aren't an extent.

Second, I wanted to avoid common tropes of fantasy...prophesies, being the Last, the First, or the Only.
Not that I don't love books with those things...I mean, Hello, have we met?!
But I'm not the right person to write things like that. My mind will take the path of least resistance, and I'll find myself having written (and you'll be reading) something that reeks of unoriginality because I dipped my story in a bathtub of Fantasy Formula.
Also, being the Only, the First, the Last, or the subject of a world-changing prophecy wouldn't be in keeping with the "everyman" quality I wanted for my girls.
I want people to fall in love with my characters not because they should be pitied, feared, or praised. I want readers to love my characters because they see themselves, or their best friend, or their brother/sister/cousin...etc...
I want to reinforce that just because you aren't the Only, the First, the Last, or the Savior prophesied about in the long ago and far away doesn't mean you're not special.
My goal was to make you feel like when you were rooting for Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver that you were cheering yourself or your best friend on toward the finish line.

Then comes the overall theme. For me my entire series is about my journey as a writer - and yours. Frankly, anyone's journey to achieve whatever dream they have. That, in short, is what my story (stories) are about.
You, Me, the common man/woman - in a world where we can't just turn off work, ignore our family or loved ones, but we still have goals and dreams that we pursue. Finding the balance between the destiny you've chosen for yourself and the things that life throws your way.
Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver have found their place in Faerie at the expense of our world and - more importantly - their families. The sacrifices they make on their journey to become great mirror the sacrifices we all make when we find our true calling in life. It's bittersweet, the way life is.

If the basic plot of the pages is the heart of your story then the theme is the soul. That invisible, intangible quality that gives life to the story outside of the pages.

Does your story have a soul? What moves your writing? What is your theme?

Until we meet again!

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