The Themes of Our Lives

I’ve been thinking about themes lately — the themes of our lives, the themes of our stories, the themes that permeate our relationships. (Technically, relationships fall under the category of the themes of our lives, but I like to do thing in threes, and I couldn’t think of a third theme category.)

Someone asked me recently if I ever considered writing a novelization of my life, and I just laughed. There is no story in my life — nothing noteworthy ever happened to me, and I never did anything that millions of others didn’t also do. Still, the question niggled, and a couple of days later I saw a theme: sometimes I’ve put aside my dream to try to help someone achieve theirs. Now that would make a good “three bears story.” The first time perhaps my namesake gave too little when she tried to help someone, and the other person didn’t achieve his or her dream either. The second time she might have given too much and still neither of them got their dream. The third time she gets it right, and everyone wins. In real life I haven’t yet gotten it right, but I’m working on it.

I also read a comment that “nothing changes if nothing changes,” which sounds like a good theme for a book. Perhaps an older woman is whining that nothing ever changes in her life, and someone tells her that nothing changes if nothing changes, so she decides to make a simple change — perhaps henna her hair or buy a dress that is out of character or go to a museum. And from that simple change comes a ripple of changes, so at the end, she ends up completely different.

Another comment was “intimacy is so hard and manipulation is so easy,” which kept my mind occupied for days on end. How much of intimacy is manipulation? If someone tells you they love you, is it manipulation, or is it intimacy? I suppose it depends on the intent, the motivation. Intimacy vs. manipulation would be a fun theme to explore in a novel.

Something else I read: “Every crisis creates a new normal.” Every time something happens to a person or a character, he must readjust his thinking to accept the new normal. How far out of the normal does he have to go before he becomes a saint or a monster? The original comment had to do with accepting the crises of age, but as a theme, it can mean any sort of crisis.

So, what are the themes of your stories, the themes of your lives, the themes you’ve written, the themes you’ve read, the themes you’d like to write?

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12 Responses to “The Themes of Our Lives”

  1. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    Themes…hmmm. Renewal. The courage to make changes in our lives and the effects of those changes once made. Honestly, I don’t think of a theme and write to it, but usually there is one by the time I’m through with it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I never used to think of theme, but now I have a tendency to start with a theme, then find the characters and plot. Don’t know why the change in my focus. Perhaps because I am a closet philosopher?

  2. Iapetus999 Says:

    There’s no story in your life??
    You’ve never cried? You’ve never shouted?
    You’ve never said goodbye? You’ve never fallen in love?
    You’ve never learned a thing from any experience you’ve ever had?
    Which brings me to your comment about manipulation vs intimacy. They’re kind of polar opposites. Manipulation IS easy. Think about the word. It means moving things with your hands. You learn to do that before you can talk. Intimacy? It’s a much different thing. It’s not about moving or changing things. It’s more about letting things go. Opening yourself up, and letting the world in. Definitely would be a good theme for a novel.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Iapetus999, Doesn’t story involve more than crying, shouting, loving, winning, losing, learning? Doesn’t there need to be an element of something more that just the conflicts of daily living? Shouldn’t there be a moment when one is bigger than life? Doesn’t story need themes, heroes, villains?

      According to Story, by Robert McKee, the spine of the story is the deep desire in and the effort by the protagonist to restore the balance of life. Hmmm. I seem to have lost the gist of my argument here. Maybe there is a story in my life. Maybe even several of them. I guess the point is, are they worth telling?

      • Iapetus999 Says:

        All story involves is conflict and resolution brought by a change in the hero.
        But really, how can you write about loss if you’ve never lost? How can you write about love if you’ve never truly loved? (and then lost?)
        How can you write about risk and change when you’ve done neither?

        I think you write part of the story of your life every time you write a blog or even post a comment. Why post anything if you don’t have anything interesting to say, and some experience to back it up with?

        I think daily living is full of stories (or at least tweets). And they’re worth telling.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          You’re right — from that standpoint, every one of my books is about myself. It tells my truths, my lessons learned, my loves. Though the scenes and characters might be made up, their emotions aren’t — those come from my life.

          I realized about a month ago that every book I’ve written has been about my life experiences or reading experiences at that particular time. One reason I’ve had such a problem with my WIP is I thought it was about freedom vs. security, when it’s really about dealing with change. And that’s what my life is about right now. Or at least I hope it is.

  3. Sheila Deeth Says:

    I used to write short stories about women and my writer friends complained that they never had names. I guess that was the theme. Who am I?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I noticed on the book jacket of the novel I am now proofing, Daughter Am I, that the name of the love interest is misspelled — Olson instead of Olsen as I had intended. I decided it would be easier to change the text than the cover, so I went through looking for every instance of the name. I only mentioned it once.

      My main character is searching for identity (under the guise of learning who her recently murdered grandparents were) but perhaps poor Olsen is searching for an identity as well.

  4. joylene Says:

    Creative License, no theme? I don’t think so. We just aren’t good at stepping back and seeing how our plot moved forward. Which is a good thing. Looking back takes too much valuable “now” time.

    I have noticed that all my stories have a recurring theme: parent/child complexities.

    Good thoughts, Pat.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Authors don’t need to know the theme of their stories (though sometimes it makes planning them easier) but they all must have a theme. I used to find the theme afterward, but now that I’ve become interested in the philosophical underpinnings of story, theme has come to be a major part of the process.

  5. Ray Baisden Says:

    One writes from their life. Maybe personally and maybe vicariously, but it has to have reaity or it’s crap.


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