#NANOWRIMO Theme and Intent: Do you know yours?
Theme and intent can be interchangeable. Intent is a term I’ve stolen from screenwriters. It took me almost ten years of writing and fifteen manuscripts to realize the critical importance of having an intent to my stories, beyond simply being entertaining and having that intent in my conscious mind.
Some in the business of screen writing say you should be able to state your intent in three words.
- Love conquers all
- Honesty defeats greed
In Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point and the Civil War, my theme was honor versus loyalty. Would you rather have an honorable friend or a loyal friend?
There are others who say you need to be able to state it in one word:
What is my intent?
What do you want readers to walk away with emotionally when they finish reading your story? This is a question many authors don’t ask themselves and it is one of the most important questions because it’s the readers who keep coming back for more. When you consider intent, consider your readers first.
Filmmakers have to think about what they want the viewer to feel when they walk out of the theater. This is one reason there are so few negative endings in films. That’s not to say you can’t have a dark ending. It’s more to point out that you need to be aware of the effect of a dark ending.
I’ve seen some excellent films where the ending was dark and bleak– and often most realistic– but most of those films were not box office blockbusters. The original screenplay for Pretty Woman was called Five Thousand Dollars. And the Richard Gere character drives away at the end. Realistic, yes. Would it have succeeded as much as the rewrite?
I’m not saying you have to have happy endings and make your reader happy. I’m saying you have to know what feeling you want the reader to experience and make sure you deliver. Larry McMurtry is a master writer and most of his stories have rather bleak endings.
I think that the more negative the intent, the better you have to be as a writer to keep the reader involved. To take readers on a dark and relatively unhappy journey, you have to be very good to keep them in the boat.
- What do you feel?
- What do you want readers to feel?
- You always have an intent.
- Positive versus negative.
- Beware of lecturing.
- Resolution–the payoff to the reader
The more a reader feels about a book, the more he will get into it. Feeling comes out of the three aspects of a novel:
If you know and, more importantly, have a good feel for each of these three before you begin writing, you increase the quality of your work.
What is your theme/intent for your book?
Can you say what your book is about in 25 words or less? The Write It Forward Workshop: Conflict and Idea, we’ll discuss ways to find and state your original idea so that you can stay on course while writing and revising your book. Conflict drives your story and must escalate throughout your entire novel. One of the techniques we will use in this workshop is the Conflict Box. The Conflict Box is a way of diagraming conflict and allows you to focus on the protagonist, antagonist, their goals and finding out if you have the necessary conflict. The course will begin on 1 February and is done on-line in a Yahoo Loop email delivery system so you can read and work on lessons when its convenient for you. The course runs for one month and costs $50.00. For more details and to sign up go to the Cool Gus Website.