In fiction, theme is what the story is about. So a romance novel will be, on the surface, a story about two characters falling for each other. But looking deeper, the themes will be what the work of fiction has to say about the fictional universe which the story is set in, and to our universe. Love is worth the pain that precedes it; love is where you least expect it; true love conquers all, and so on.
For Jurassic Park the most obvious theme is that dinosaurs are cool, but few films can become as successful as Jurassic Park was if that’s all they have to say. There’s also a key theme that it’s dangerous for humans to think that they can control their new technology – Frankenstein ‘playing god’ theme. It’s a recurring theme in Michael Crichton’s fiction, including Westworld and Prey. Another Jurassic Park theme is the importance of family, in this case the non-traditional ‘family’ that forms between the central characters in the process of protecting each other.
This entry is part of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group – a group of writers helping each other deal with insecurities that are part of the writing process.
A consistent problem that I’ve always had when writing is getting the rough draft of the story down on paper. I enjoy the research and world-building – for instance today I’ve been looking at animals that are able to control electricity for background to a science fiction idea. I also enjoy structuring stories – building a kind of scaffolding to outline the key events, how the characters are going to change and when the key pieces of information will be revealed to the reader. But I struggle when it comes to writing the first full version of the story.
Being a perfectionist, ambitious, and having flickering self-confidence is not a great combination.
At times I feel that I’ve stumbled across a great idea, an idea for a novel or other form of fiction which no-one else is writing, and turning it into a major hit is just a matter of putting it down on paper. Unfortunately, turning a vague idea into a practical reality is a little trickier than that.
Lately I’ve been putting a bit of thought into the role names serve in fiction, about how they give a first impression of a character, place or culture.
One of the Star Trek franchise’s major alien races are the Ferengi, who began as accidentally comical characters in The Next Generation, developing into overtly comic characters who played a major part in Deep Space Nine. I was surprised to encounter a variation of the word ‘feringhee’ several years after first hearing it in Star Trek, in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, set in 19th century India. The alien species’ name came from a derogatory word used by Indians for foreigners, apparently particularly directed at white foreigners.
Production staff on the show have confirmed that this was the genesis of the word, with producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe stating that “Ferengi is, after all, the Persian word for foreigner, particularly for European.”
It’s difficult to work out the reasoning behind making this choice (particularly as not many of the target audience, in 1980s America, probably would have been aware of the meaning of the word) but it was a conscious choice to reference this meaning.
You wouldn’t be able to shave without it, for a start.
Okay, as the ‘theme’ of this blog is writing in general and the things I’ve written myself, it’s fairly obvious that this post isn’t going to be about literal mirrors.
I’m currently a few months into a university course, doing English Studies with Creative Writing. Two of the exercises I’ve been doing are to keep a ‘writer’s diary’ detailing how I’ve come up with ideas, and a piece of ‘reflective writing’ looking back at my process of writing a short story, the obstacles I’ve come up against and overcome.
Over the past five years I’ve been keeping a variety of notebooks – literal and electronic – about the half-formed ideas I’ve had over the years. But I’ve never really given that much thought to my ways of working. But recently I’ve given more thought to what works best for me – learning by trial and error, and from what other, more successful writers have said about their methods.
The Insecure Writers’ Support Group, set up by Alex Cavanaugh, is a monthly chance for those of us who describe ourselves as writers to put our insecurities out in the open, and see that others feel the same.
It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time to have a whinge at myself in the name of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.
I’ve been writing a fair bit over recent months, trying to keep a variety of plates spinning, writing for different sites on varied subjects.
There are many writers who are much more prolific than me, but I’ve been stepping up the amount of writing I’ve done – most of it web-based, as well as writing a few bits of fiction.
I have let down a few people, unfortunately – for instance I discussed writing something topical as a guest author, but because of being busy/having less than ideal time management, I let it slip away. I’ve got a similar backlog of what I think are decent ideas tucked away in the back of my head or in a Word file somewhere or other.
I’ve also found that working on so many things at once can lead to making daft mistakes.
For instance, in recent months I’ve been writing about football statistics for Squawka.com.
One of the problems with writing on a statistical basis about players I’ve only watched irregularly is that I feel that people who watch the players on a regular basis, who’ve seen every game that player has been involved in, will know things about the player’s performances that I’ve not seen.
I made one particularly amateurish mistake – in a piece talking about Manchester United midfielder Nani, I mentioned in passing that his midfield rival Antonio Valencia was in his second season at the club – it was actually his fourth.
Obviously this kind of thing isn’t all that important, and didn’t affect the broad strokes of what I was arguing… but it’s still annoying to let that kind of mistake slip by.
I’m a fiction writer by instinct, and find research a bit stressful.
As much as I enjoying expanding my knowledge, learning more about the subjects that interest me, I find myself thinking about the information I’m not seeing as much as what I am. I’ve been writing a ‘Lower League Week’ for a year and a half now, and it can be a bit difficult to get my hands on information for some of the less well covered teams in England’s professional leagues. Coverage of what’s going on inside the clubs can be hard to come by, and there’s always the worry of local media glossing over the complications to keep their contacts inside the club, and fans reactions being clouded by emotion, often over-reacting one way or the other.
Personally, I prefer to get the foundations right, and then go off on tangents, inventing my own stuff. Unfortunately, I think this tends to be frowned on in factual writing.
Stieg Larrson, a very influential journalist in his field, reportedly wrote the ‘Girl with a Dragon Tattoo’ books in the evenings, as a way of unwinding. Previously I hadn’t been able to understand that – I’m generally the kind of writer to plan things out in massive detail in advance, before getting started. I take story structure and character development very seriously, it winds me up enormously when a character behaves in a way that I feel clashes with their previously established behaviour, or a twist comes along that feels forced and artificial.
But I’ve been finding in recent months that, when I’ve got so many ideas going round in my head, there’s some that excite me more than others, and it’s useful to think of those as a kind of treat – things I can let loose and be more natural when writing, without worrying quite so much.
It might not be the ideal way to accomplish it, but one of my key aims when setting up this blog was to get myself writing more quickly and on a regular basis, rather than trying to make everything perfect, moving at a snail’s pace, and finishing nothing.
I’m currently trying to reach a pace of writing that I find difficult, but it’s better than the alternative.
As with actual spinning plates there are techniques to make the trick easier.
Just this past week I’ve gotten half a story written on Sunday night, 2 and a half thousand words written in a few hours. Not only was this a decent achievement by my standards, it left me feeling refreshed, and more energised for the factual work I had in my ‘to do’ list. I’ve also enjoyed collaborating on what could be a rare case of football-themed comedy that actually ends up being funny.
Really, I need to be better at both de-stressing and forcing myself to sit down to get first drafts of things completed. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I feel as if I’m moving in the right direction.