Process and Theme

The NaNoWriMo is upon us once again. I haven’t won it in some time. My first year was 2004. I played and won for five years in a row. And before you say “writing is not a game you play,” let me assure you that the NaNoWriMo can be as much a game as you make of it. Little bursts of productivity as you compete with smug strangers for hourly goals, stalking the forums with much clucking and head shaking, and the timeless wily game we fondly call Procrastination. But yeah, I’m doing it again this year, and I fully intend to win. Behind right now, which is why I’m blogging instead of writing–even though that makes no sense.

I’ve already drafted much of the novel that I’m working on. For now, it’s called The Second Funeral which is catchy evocative, I think. As I write a new first draft (so called because I’m making so many changes), I have no idea what the theme of this book is yet. That makes it harder to write because I’m focusing on arcs, plot, and character instead of on theme. What is theme to me? It’s the reason people should read the book. The theme of A Stabbing for Sadie is that a) you never know someone else’s story, and b) it’s wrong to murder people no matter how right, how justified, how fair and balanced you may think it is. The theme of Kiss Me Like You Love Me is that a) we’re all full of shit to some degree and we owe each other far better than that, and b) some people never fucking learn. The theme of The Finster Effect is that a) one day all the daily bullshit we deal with is going to go to hell–then we’ll be left with the people we are and the choices we make, and b) humans don’t know what the hell they’re doing, and are doomed as a species.

As far as I’m concerned, if my books don’t have a compelling theme, a valid and vital message–then they’re a waste of everyone’s time. Just typing that out worries me. I fear that I sound like an elitist jag (which, if you’re new around here, is something I constantly struggle with). Plenty of people write books without a life changing theme, and that’s a totally valid and personal choice. I read books like that, and I rarely come away with a feeling that I’ve wasted my time. In some ways, I feel like I owe it to the horror genre to elevate it to more than knives and monsters. Then I wonder if horror gives a rat’s ass what I feel. If horror loves me as much as I love it, it’s keeping a tight lid on that shit.

Somewhere between the 2nd edit, I tend to have that “Aha!” moment where I realize the real-world significance of the book I’m writing. That makes it easier to edit the fuck out of the draft, and then write a 3rd (or final, depending) draft. The one I send out to beta readers. I usually end up cutting a ton of stuff out, tightening all of it, and adding more about things and people who should have gotten more focus initially.

Without a theme, it’s hard to know where anything is really supposed to go. Until I figured out the ending of Kiss Me Like You Love Me, I had no idea how it was supposed to end. Once I had a theme, it was clear that it could only end one way. Tough luck, Character!

I guess my main point here is that the new book doesn’t have a theme. I can tell you who the main characters are, and basically what is happening. But I have no idea what it’s “about.” So please don’t ask. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

In other news, Deep Blue Sea is on cable this month. One of those movies that I know full well is terrible and has no connection to logic or science. I must admit though, I find it highly compelling as a film to have on when I’m doing other things. It has a great cast including Samuel L Jackson and Thomas Jane (a blonde, American James Purefoy if you will) along with Aida Turturro, Michael Rappaport, Saffron Burrows, and LL Cool Jay. H and I saw it on a date during those brief months after we were a couple but before we started living together.

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