Story: What makes it really one?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In most of the forums and workshops, or even from my other writer friends, I always hear this perpetual question:  I know I have many things to write; but don't know what to write. The question itself may sound ambiguous like their confusion, but it’s a fact with many young writers.

They all know with absolute confidence they have stories. Manuja, one of my mentees in screenwriting at LV Prasad Film & TV Academy is very clear about her status: Sir, I have many stories in my mind, and I know it's good; but I don't know how to bring it out. Datchayani at my Screenwriters' Studio puts the same query in another way: Sir, I want to write about a girl and her story, but how do I write it?

It's a process writers have to go through. We should make an intense approach to define what we have to write, as a story. You know the recurrent question from the industry when we go out to pitch? - What’s it about? But as writers we have to ask a step further: What's it really about? And that 'really about' is what we generally call 'theme'. Without a theme, a writer may drift, without a focus to define the exact story spread all over his/her mind.

Most often I find young, novice writers don't get a grip on what 'theme' means to a story. Or, they don't actually understand what theme means when ‘referred’ to a story.

Theme is the common factor of your story, which connects to the human circumstances of life, which a writer wants to emphasize. Theme is an idea or a moral hint the writer wants the audience to carry home at the end of the movie, to help them go through the emotional and spiritual cleansing (Aristotelian). It's a ‘message’ the audience finally receives after they go through your screenplay. And necessarily, to the writer, ‘theme’ asks an ethical question: Why do you want to write this screenplay?

Theme actually takes the writer through an honest commitment to the very life in and around him/her, as it gives the screenplay the emotional intensity. It has to merge spontaneously from the holistic outcome of the screenplay; it radiates from the screenplay as a separate ‘perception’ apart from the movie experience, as it lingers in the audience’s minds for many days to come. Please don’t confuse theme with any indoctrination which the writer uses the characters to bring out through dialogues or actions.

In a way, I think, theme is connected a lot from ‘writing from the heart’. So when the writer writes, with the instinctive back-up of ‘theme’, the reader or viewer may find various meanings to it, as to their experience and understanding of life. They may construe it in many ways, far meaningful than the writer may have imagined.   But as for the writer, one writes about what one looks at the world and life personally, giving a private meaning to it. I can site many real-life examples to this, but I don’t think I have time right now to share all that with you; may be another time.

Please don't force a theme if you still don’t have one before you write your story; let theme come to you in it's own time and definition. You can fine-tune the whole theme while you re-write.  

Just for the sake of getting a hands-on feel, I’ll give you some examples of ‘themes’ of some screenplays:

Erin Brockovich: It’s to do with self-esteem and self worth; of not being dismissed or laughed at, but being recognized for one’s own abilities and talents; and that self-respect comes from selflessness.

Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility.

Field of Dreams: It’s important for us to have dreams – even if those dreams are not ultimately fulfilled, it’s important for us to have them.

A.I. (Artificial Intelligence): Our humanity – and being human – is defined by our capacity to love and be loved.

Guna (Tamil): Where do you find pure love in this modern world - in a retarded mind?

Thaniyavarthanam [Repetition] (Malayalam): Mothers’ compassion sometimes has reasons.

“In my younger days I was writing, but then I discovered something: I had this great urge to communicate, but I had nothing to say.” -
Screenwriter: Ghost, My Life, Stuart Little 2, Deep Impact


Teres said...

thanks a lot for this new ideas and beautiful tips.

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