Saturday, July 15, 2006

beware of theme

I distrust the idea of theme, which seems to me to be a kind of high school English concept, and one that you should forget immediately when you start to write.
But Flannery O'Connor says it far better:
When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully.
I got this lovely quote from Kate's Book Blog.
I've been reading short stories, and it's making me want to write one. Which of course I must not do until I finish the novel.

5 Comments:

Blogger Brian Kornell said...

I love that quote! Wondering about the theme of the story, slowly chokes all life out of it. Of course it took me a few dead stories and some staring at my computer, shouting, what does it mean, before I figured that out.

7/16/2006 10:19 AM  
Blogger lucette said...

I should forbid the word to be used in cw classes.

7/16/2006 10:29 AM  
Blogger Brian Kornell said...

That is a great idea!

7/16/2006 10:20 PM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

I was just talking about this with my good bud Grant Bailie. Theme should serve as an subtle internal tool, driving details and word choice. To me, even the word 'theme' is too concrete. I instead think of a soft idea cloud in my head. The 'ethereal nature of time' in my head might result in a lost wristwatch in my story, that sort of thing.

If it is glaring, it amounts to a writer's wiring showing.

Effing hell. Am I gassing on now or what?

Hey! I don't care! Just tell me I'm right! Please?

7/18/2006 9:06 AM  
Blogger lucette said...

You are right!
Actually, I think I might be comfortable with using "soft idea cloud" in my class.

7/18/2006 10:43 AM  

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