Slowly, But Surely, I’m Figuring Out PROJECT ACADEMIA’s Themes

This is kind of a PROJECT ACADEMIA update? But also kind of a general writing blog post. Whatevs.

So I’ve been ironing out a lot of the details pertaining to PROJECT ACADEMIA and the direction the story is probably taking. Working on the worldbuilding and all of that has been really eye-opening in that regard. That and the feedback I’ve gotten so far from early-bird readers and critique partners has been a godsend (to anyone curious, that offer is still on the table and anyone who I’ve reached out to, there’s still quite a bit of time to get me any feedback ya may have). The thing that always sort of jumps out about my writing is the way I deal with themes and messages.

Personally, I’m someone who takes a more explorative approach when it comes to the themes in my work. A lot of the time the story has a broad theme that I like to just see what I can do with, rather than a very specific theme that’s tailored to tell a hyper-focused message. And, to be fair, a large part of that may just come from the fact that I like big stories with ensemble casts. So having broad themes that I can look at from multiple angles and perspectives just suits my style.

Themes tend to come about in one of two ways. Either you decided on it beforehand, or you discovered it as you began working on the story. I tend to be the latter. But there are also tons of ways to go about themes. But the way I like to boil it down is in the form of the Question approach, the Statement approach, and the Keyword approach.

A Question Theme is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a theme that essentially poses a question. A big one you’ll find in Burning Sky, for example, is “What does it mean to be a hero?” When it comes to question themes, it helps to think of the message(s) as the Answer(s). So, using the Burning Sky example, the message would follow the lines of “A hero is someone who X” (yeah… because I’m really going to tell you the conclusions the story comes to). Though it should be said that the questions can have multiple answers. But then there’s the Statement approach.

The Statement approach is basically when the theme is posed as an observation about the world. And, to be fair, these types of themes can range in terms of specificity. It also helps to remember that the theme is just shorthand for “what the story’s about.” So, with that in mind, the theme of a WWII era story, for example, could be “the monstrousness of Japanese internment camps generated by the paranoia of 1940s America.” But it could also be something a bit less specific, reaching across a broad, societal scale, such as “the marginalization and perceived invisibility faced by people with mental illnesses.” The thing to keep in mind is that while the Question method is about getting to the message, the Statements seen in this approach are the message, in one form or another. And it’s usually done by showing the effects of the observation being made.

Then there’s the Keyword approach, which is sort of a cheat because it’s more of a super-theme. This method is basically just a way of concentrating the story down to the most basic aspects. It usually comes up if, after you’ve already written the story, you weren’t able to figure out what the theme was. Just go back over the story and choose the words that seem most relevant to it. Obviously, you don’t have to come up with the keywords, this way and are perfectly within your rights to start with them if you just want to make a story on a broad topic. But the former is just more common, I find. The reason I call these “super-themes” is because you can fit the other two methods into this. Using the Burning Sky example again, I could just as easily say the theme of the story is “Heroism.” And that’s that. It’s vague enough that you can slide several different themes of different types into the mix.

I bounce back and forward between the two main approaches across any number of the stories I’m writing at any given moment. But I always remember to keep them broad enough to really explore for as long as I feel like. As I said, Burning Sky (so far) takes the Question method. But I think PROJECT ACADEMIA is shaping up to take the Statement method. I’m not currently using the story to pose any questions to be answered. I’m simply taking a concept and running with it to see what I can do. Maybe I’ll get around to introducing Question-based themes in later arcs. But currently it seems the story is based more around observations of the world through the eyes of Mio and her classmates as the navigate the perilous world of… high school!

It’s always a delight to discover more about the story as I go along. In terms of other updates, there’s a bit to report. I’ve already completed the second draft of the first chapter and I think it’s muuuch better. Given what the timetable is on Burning Sky, I can’t say this’ll still be getting a release in January (the biggest obstacle at the moment would be money. I do still wanna get an actual cover drawn and a logo… after I decide on an official title). But the story’s overall coming along well. The holidays did derail my work a little, but I’m getting back into the swing of things.

Well, that’s pretty much everything on this subject! Are you a writer? How do you come up with your themes? Do you use any of the methods I outlined, here or do you have your own approach? I’d love to know! (heh. you thought I’d do the Eru thing, didn’tcha?)

Anway, Keep up the Awesome!

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