Monday, 18 April 2011

Narrative Gods

Plot  vs Theme

What are they?

And if they were gods, what would they look like?

Well, you're about to find out.

Plot is defined, per Wikipidea, as a literary term for the events a story comprises, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.

But in my own words, plot is action - action caused by your protagonist(s) or antagonist(s). It is not simply a chain of events that happens to these characters, it's what they do.

If Plot were a person it would look like this:

Why? Quite simple: A plot is enigmatic until the very end - when everything comes full circle and "the cup runneth over", if you will. Like many a bad guy, their true motives are never understood until the resolution. To this effect, plot may as well be a shady individual who is more than meets the eye.

And speaking of more than meets the eye, Theme is one such thing.

As per Wikipedia, Theme is a main idea or message, of an essay, paragraph, movie, television program, book or video game. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plotcharactersetting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction

Super awesome blogger CBame13 posted a great list of characters from famous books and their motivation. Mind you, Motivation and Theme are two different things, but one can help the other and I'll soon show you how. For now, here's a brief excerpt from that post.

Star Wars the Real Trilogy- Luke is a whiner, but he always thirsts for adventure. Setting him up as an adventure seeking character makes it feasible that when his home is destroyed, he heads off to live his dream of fighting in the rebellion

Harry Potter- Their main motivation is just to be nosy little brats as most kids are. This would be fine, but even little kids know not to kill themselves and to, at some point, call for help.

The Heir Trilogy- Most probably haven't heard of this series, but i'd recommend it for a pretty easy read with an entertaining story. The motivation starts out with him just wanting to see what he can do with his cool new powers and it ends up being a fight for the freedom of huge groups of people. A bit shaky, but still amusing.

The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm- Another book most people haven’t read, it starts out with a group of detectives being hired to find some missing children and it turns into this whole huge epic quest. Similar to the Heir Trilogy, The initial motivation is fine, but it makes little sense why the three detectives here would go and save the world like they do.

The Lord of the Rings- I’m sure most people don’t want to hear anything bad about this series, but the idea that a midget of a person would willingly venture into the fires of Mount Doom to drop a ring in a volcano seems silly to me. Love the story, not the motivation.

Iron Man- Tony Stark sees his legacy being tainted and put in the hands of the same murderous bastards who tried to kill him. Simple revenge motivates him, then turns him into a modern-day super hero. I really like how they did it.

To my understanding, Theme is what the central idea of the story hinges on: hope, bravery, hate, love and what have you. It's what inspires motivation - the very root of it - and here's a simple reason why: A woman is killed by a gangster and her father grabs his gun and seeks out this thug. For revenge, obviously (and this is motivation), but what is the root of revenge? Hate, right? And that is your theme (considering the summary I gave is the entire plot).

Without motivation there could be no theme and vice versa. And if theme were a god, it would obviously be this one:

Like Demeter, Theme is the force behind a great foundation - full of color, vim and vigor. It inspires without persuasion and, like mother earth, you often forget it's there.    


Kelly Hashway said...

I love that you paired graphics with each of these! Great post.

Anita said...

I allow the theme to grow organically. I mean, if you're writing something you care about, the theme will come knocking. Does that makes sense? And then I build on the theme when the pages are all down...go and insert things that make it stronger. My two cents.

Tabitha said...

Ooo, plot and theme. My inner geek is all excited. :) Both of these are what drew me to writing in the first place. I love intricate plots, the more layers, the better. A brilliant writer can connect a zillion, three-dimentional dots together and still make it work.

A genius can then weave in theme, which often translates as subtext and manifests as motivation. And there are often more than one themes. That's the kind of story I aspire to write. Not sure if I'll be successful, but I still try. :)

Great post!

Barbara Kloss said...

I love your last point, about theme being the force behind a great foundation. If you consider the themes you want while you're plotting, you get so many ideas for your plot--they completely play off each other. Focusing on those themes through all aspects - like characters - makes everything weave together and your story world that much more believable.

Great post!

Michael Offutt said...

But what about the books that have no plot. "I'll just write about a girl that wants a boy and he's a vampire so that's interesting, right?"

Matthew MacNish said...

Oh man, you're dissing several of my favorite stories here.

Just kidding, great post!

T.D. McFrost said...

Kelly - Thanks I love them too. I have a sorta fetish for awesome pictures like these. They just make me all tingly. :D

Anita - You have a lovely Indian name. And yes, you make complete sense. The theme usually does unfolds once you get the story going - this has happened to me before, and it was quite nice.

Tabitha - I LOVE intricate plots too. I am working on my own at the moment and believe me, to get to that level you need to plan ahead.

Barbara - Herro, my dear! Like your points. Score! :D

Michael - Hmm, least someone died in the end, right? That's always...ur...exciting? (LOL)

Mathew - Oh hey, so nice to have you over here. You're always welcome to join my gang of Superstars anytime!

This has been fun. Thanks a lot guys!

Chris Phillips said...

Plot is a total bad-ass. I feel bad for theme.

CBame13 said...

Well written as always and very succinct. Thanks for the mention. I hope we can keep working together.

T.D. McFrost said...

Chris - You're funny, man! Actually, I bet Theme could whip Plot's butt anyday! My money is on Plot, 'cause I'm a plotter, but I won't count Theme out yet. :D

CBame13 - Thanks! I had a blast writing it and I've gotten many compliments on your excerpt, which I happily stated does not belong to me, but an awesome blogger called CBame13.

I look forward to using something of yours again! :D

Kelly Hashway said...

I gave you an award on my blog. Stop by to claim it.

Anonymous said...

Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

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