Sunday, March 13, 2011

Your Protagonist's Theme is Your Own

A friend wanted to know my answer, with regard to my WIP, to one of the questions I wrote about theme in a previous post. She wondered about my answer to this question:

What was I personally struggling with while I wrote it?

I'll answer that question, along with the following:

Does my own story, combined with the resolution of the protagonist’s story, come together to create a general statement about what I personally think or believe? How?

First, I'll say that there are reasons why we write the books we do. We are struggling with an issue in our lives to such a powerful extent that we are compelled to write about it, in order to work it out for ourselves. The key word is compelled. I think that's why so many of our ideas fall short, and we give up on them. We are not personally involved with the story's key issues. We are not working with our own personal themes. When we are, we are so intrigued to find the answer that we cannot NOT write the story ...

So here goes:

The primary theme of my story is that to fully live and love our life, we have to accept the full reality of it. All of it. It means we accept our joys as well as our heartaches, our strengths as well as our limitations.

That’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t push the boundaries to reduce our limitations. But if we never see the whole picture, but compulsively pursue one quality, such as happiness, or perfection, or love, or success, or knowledge, or strength, or peacefulness … our lives are greatly diminished.

My protagonist is compulsive about seeking happiness. Do you know what happens when you seek out one thing in that way? It forever eludes you. My heroine, Crystal, is never happy with what IS. She always thinks the grass is greener elsewhere, and she’s always looking for elsewhere.

In the end, she finds out that true happiness is accepting what IS in her life. She’s no longer trying to live in a future, happier state, but is content to be present and enjoy NOW.

How is this similar to my own struggles? My journey with Crystal has made me far more alert to my own thoughts and feelings about my life. I’m someone who is easily dissatisfied with just about anything. I always see an image of how something should be. On the other side of “how it should be” is an image of how far it fails to measure up against the ideal. Now that’s a recipe for dissatisfaction.

So in many ways, although I’m seeking perfection, and Crystal is seeking happiness, our struggles are the same. The manuscript ends with Crystal accepting her life as it is. She comes to realize that the things she’d thought were most important are really only of secondary importance, at least for now.

Once she graduates from high school, she can revise her plans and goals, but for at least one more year, she will stay put. She also gives up the compulsive search for happiness, realizing that joy can be found in every minute of your life, if you’re willing to open your eyes and see it.

I had the same realization as Crystal. I so want to quit my day job and be a full time writer. (Don’t we all?) But if I project myself into the future too much, and do not see the joys in my life as it is now, and there are MANY joys in my life, I live in frustration instead of happiness.

I believe this, although it’s not always forefront in my mind. While I’ve been working on the manuscript, I’ve been making more of an effort to be aware of it and to live it. I’ve become more aware of the tyranny of my ego—its compulsive thoughts that cause my dissatisfactions—and not to be taken prisoner by it. We are not our thoughts or even our feelings. We are the far deeper, and freer, knowing that is behind our thoughts and feelings.

I hope that makes sense. My manuscript is not an intellectual treatise. It’s a story. Stories showcase our themes, but in a way that is not expository. Stories bypass our intellect to go straight to our hearts and touch us deeply.

In one sentence, what is your theme?


  1. Our novels are windows into our inner thoughts. The experience of writing my first novel really demonstrated this to me and left me thinking about what it meant. I'm not the same person I was when I started - and that's good. Sounds like your experience was the same. Makes writing even more seductive now. I can't stop!

    My theme?
    We sculpt our lives with our choices.

  2. It's so true. With writers I think the way we deal with the world is to get it down on paper, hoping we can make sense of it there.

    My first novel was built on the idea that sometimes you have to fight against fate over and over and over again before you can make any headway, but even then it is hard to know whether you've really won. At the time, I was dealing with feelings of helplessness in my career and a lot of my frustration came out into the story.

  3. The theme that crops up in all my ideas is identity-- there's usually an element of discovery of the self or discovery of another. My WIP's theme is attachment versus abandonment, which relates to my FMC figuring out that striving to be independent is great but isolating yourself for self-protection isn't so hot. That hits almost embarassingly close to home now that I've typed it out.
    - Sophia.

  4. Thanks, Cathy, for expounding on those questions you asked a few posts ago. I think this subject relates strongly to the old writer adage, "Write what you know." Like Sophia in the comment above mine, my books generally deal with identity. Also, the majority of the books that I relate to and enjoy most have weak heroes/heroines who find their strengths and become wildly awesome. :)

  5. The theme of my MS in one sentence: your happiness is your own responsibility, no one else's!

    And yes, when I began writing this MS, it was definitely a lesson I needed to learn myself - and one I've had to re-learn a number of times!

    Kim: considering what you've said about books you like, you might like mine - when I've finally finished it.

  6. Hi,

    I'm Kate Evangelista, author of Taste, and I just wanted to take this time to introduce myself. If you have the time, please stop by The Coffee Bar by using the link below:

    I hope to see you there.


  7. I'll... have to get back to you on that one. It'll take some thought.


    Very good question, though.


Your comments mean a lot to me!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...