A Vital Point To Consider If You're Trying To Get Published: Part 13
We’re attempting to establish what you are trying to say through your fiction.
The purpose of this is to enhance and expand your work so that it is more likely to get published and reach a wider base of readers, and also so that it will appeal to those readers in more profound ways. Ultimately, the purpose is to make your work so masterful that it provides you with satisfaction on both spiritual and commercial levels.
But we have discovered that it’s almost impossible to find out what you are trying to say because the culture has probably blinded you. The ‘metaphoric vision’ which would have empowered you to see literal and figurative expressions as a unified whole has been taken away or split up into ‘literal’ and ‘figurative’ as separate categories.
Can you get your meta-vision back?
We assume, in this, that there is something deeper in your story than simply a sequence of ‘Then this happened, then this happened…’ linear events. Working on that assumption, try answering these questions:
1. Who is the central character at the beginning of the story?
2. What are they trying to do?
3. What is it about their character that prevents them from doing it?
4. What events in the story assist them in doing it?
5. What events hinder them, acting as obstacles?
6. Does your character succeed in his or her objective?
They sound like conventional questions, and asking them is partly why sometimes conventional approaches strike lucky and work. But really they are a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to the core of your ‘metaphorical thinking’, your unified vision of the story’s themes.
The way it really works is this:
i) You have a Theme (or themes). You might not know what it is, but it’s probably there. You also have something you want to say about the Theme.
ii) On some level in your creative imagination, that Theme takes on a personified form, becoming what the ordinary text books say is a ‘character’.
iii) This character — actually not a person at all, but even in the best literature merely a cipher or package of 'code' — has a function, which is to capture the reader's attention and move them through a series of actions towards the accomplishment of something. These form the thing that the textbooks call the ‘plot’, which is the outward appearance of the story.
iv) The accomplishment of that ‘something’ is your thematic statement — it’s what you are trying to say through your Theme.
Let’s look at an example.
i) Shakespeare’s theme — one of them — in Macbeth could be summed up as ‘the nature of psychosis’ (though ‘summing up’ a theme immediately divides it from the rest in an attempt to isolate it from the poetry of the language, the structure of the play and everything else which makes Macbeth a cohesive while as a work of fiction). In terms of ‘something Shakespeare wanted to say’, it could be concluded that the Bard wanted to warn audiences about the horrors of psychosis, though again that’s oversimplifying it.
ii) Shakespeare’s Theme takes on a personified form as ‘Macbeth’, the thane who, when we meet him on stage, already has ‘horrible imaginings’ which are stirred to life by the witches he meets.
iii) Macbeth — remember, not actually a person at all, but a package of code — grips us then moves us through a series of actions towards the accomplishment of something: kingship of Scotland, and then rapid decline towards failure and death. The various Acts of the play which this series forms are the outward appearance of the story.
iv) That failure and death are the result of unbridled psychosis is Shakespeare’s thematic statement — it’s what he says through his Theme.
Another example: Graham Greene’s short story 'The Hint of an Explanation'.
i) Greene’s Theme is faith, particularly Catholic faith. He wants to say something about it, and so has a narrator meet a passenger on a cold train one day.
ii) The passenger represents in a personified form, this theme of faith, though that isn’t clear until right at the end.
iii) This passenger relates an incident from his youth in which someone tried to persuade him to part with a piece of the Holy Sacrament from a church service. He managed to defy the tempter. But the story’s ‘punchline’ doesn’t occur until the passenger’s scarf falls away at the end of relating his tale, revealing that he became a Catholic priest as a result of the incident. The flashback and final twist together give us the outward appearance of the story.
iv) Greene’s thematic statement is about the power of faith.
As an exercise, take a story that you have written and run it through the steps above.
i) Do you perceive a Theme (or themes)? And something you want to say about the Theme(s)?
ii) How is your Theme personified?
iii) Does your central character grip the reader then move them through a series of actions towards the accomplishment of something, forming your ‘plot’, which is the outward appearance of the story?
iv) Does accomplishment of that ‘something’ give the reader a thematic statement? Have you said what you are trying to say through your Theme?
Work it over and re-work it.
Instead of writing a linear ‘Then this happened…’ tale, you are beginning to sculpt something in three dimensions.
Let me know how it goes.