Sunday, October 27, 2019

Theme vs. Plot in Life

I was reading Write or Wrong, by Dirk Manningthis morning. I've been into comics the past few months and vaguely considering writing one (or five, depending on the day). I was intrigued by the author's advice early on. He proposes that most aspiring writers get too focused on plot when it's the theme that will set their work apart in the vast ocean of comics.

Plot is what happens in the story, but theme is what the story is about. 

While plot is essential, the theme the plot is set in capture the hearts of many more readers.

He uses the example of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Almost everyone knows the highlights of the play's plot. What rich themes can we see woven through it, however? He lists:

  • The destructive power of love
  • How far people will go to escape fate
  • Sins of a father passed to the sons
  • Individual rights versus society's norms
He claims the themes make it timeless. What I find interesting, though, is that a lot of people probably read or watch that story, they might even enjoy it, but not everyone really thinks about the theme. It's the invisible message you might feel strongly, yet never put into words.

It's like knowing the lyrics to a favorite song, singing the melody, but never considering the chord structure and rhythm that ties it together.

I've written about viewing our lives in terms of stories before (see here and here). It's something I frequently consider, but Manning's thoughts on theme opened my eyes to a deeper level. 

Most people are caught up in the events of their lives. We could say it's the plot. It's what happened or what's happening. 

But what is the theme of our lives? Do we even have a theme other than what we impose upon it? If so, is it important to recognize it?

I'll leave it at that for now. I have some thinking to do.