A few days ago, I watched an interview with Emma Watson and Lin-Manuel Miranda from back in March. If you are unfamiliar with either of them, Emma Watson (aka Hermione) now works very closely with HeforShe, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is the creator of Hamilton (I highly suggest you listen to the soundtrack.)
In the interview, around the nine minute mark, Emma asks Lin-Manuel:
“Do you think story-tellers have a responsibility to drive us forward as a society, to encourage us to see things in new ways and if you do, does that ever weigh heavily on you? Do you ever think of it as a responsibility?”
In response, Lin-Manuel says that our world views affect what you see in different works and how you create it. He also talks about how artists create empathy for their characters.
See full video here.
Then in class today, two of my students began talking about how some people hear a different message within song lyrics than others. So, I began thinking about my work, about my beliefs, and I noticed a common theme.
All of my writing and my favorite books have to do with gender equality at least in some way, shape, or form. And it makes sense in my mind. I was raised to believe women can do anything men can do. That belief shows in all of my work. But if someone else were to read the same books as me, they might not see that.
Take for example The Hunger Games. My first thought of that series is that there is a strong female protagonist who is forced into a competition that gives equal chance to win to both boys and girls. During the description of the tributes, Katniss explains how Districts 1 and 2 are normally the winners because they train their youth. She doesn’t say it’s the district boys. No, there is the sense that the girls are just as lethal.
You may be reading this and think that you did not focus on that first. You may have picked up on the society aspect, or the mythology behind the story. The possibilities are endless.
Now, you can take this as you may. You can continue to write, happily oblivious to the true theme you have in your head. You can continue to read books and listen to songs and take with you what you want to. Or you can think about what drives you, what makes you want to write and want to create.
I’ve compiled a list of questions to ask when you’re creating your story and your characters to build on your theme and in the process create empathy.
- What are your favorite books? Why? What speaks to you in them?
- Can you find the same ideas in your writing as you can in those books?
- Is there more than one way to write this story? Why did you choose your way?
- Does each of your characters portray this theme in some way? Characters can be for it or against it.
- Can your setting portray this theme? If you’ve created a new world, how does the society see this theme? If you have a contemporary world, can the theme be reflected within the character’s specific setting?
- What incidents in the story reflect the theme?
- Do you hit your readers over the head with the theme? Or is is subtle? (Aim for subtle.)
- Does the theme come full circle in the end?
These are just a few questions. There is so much you can ask yourself while you are writing. Just remember, if you are struggling to push a certain theme or idea, it probably is not right for you. Writing should be fun and not a burden. Find what you are passionate about and go from there!
What themes do you recognize in your own reading and writing? Share them in the comments.