Last week we had a moment that made us realize that Yaya is fully settled in to her new house in our neighborhood: The other day she was talking to a neighbor she recently met, and the neighbor commented about how busy she must be with her job. Yaya is retired, so she was confused by the question. She asked the neighbor what she meant, and the neighbor replied, “You own a daycare, don’t you?”
Ah, yes. You know you’re fully integrated with the Fulwiler family when people start asking you if you run an in-home daycare.
As I mentioned, the tree is decorated. There were some naysayers who were skeptical that we could figure out a way to get the star on top, seeing as how the top of the tree is only half an inch below the ceiling.
There was talk of saws and clippers and all sorts of work to reshape the top of the tree that made me tired just thinking about it. So I stepped in and solved the problem, Jen-style:
Nobody has even noticed that our star is tacked to the ceiling, just kind of hanging in front of the tree. I win.
Fellow writing nerds, listen up! I’ve stumbled upon something really interesting that you’re going to enjoy pondering: The critical importance of theme. The way I’ve come to see it, the theme of a story is the underlying element of it that transcends the individual events and touches on the universal human experience. Especially in memoir, it’s what takes your story from forgettable navel-gazing to an expansive story with wide appeal. For example:
- Scene 1 (no theme): Dude writes about eating a tomato.
- Scene 2 (with theme): Dude writes about eating a tomato. He explains that he grew it in his farm’s garden, and that this is an heirloom variety that would have been eaten by the farm’s original owners back in 1812. It is the evening of his 40th birthday, and he reflects on the fact that all the people who enjoyed these same tastes back in the nineteenth century are now gone, and that his own life won’t last forever. As he savors the textures and flavors and aromas of the tomato, he resolves to make the most of each day from here forward.
That’s an example from the memoir The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Scene 1 is how he could have written it, which would have been uninteresting; Scene 2 is how he did write it. The themes of “man reflecting on his mortality” and “the importance of savoring simple moments” animated the chapter, and elevated it from a self-centered journal entry to a moving glimpse of the universal human experience.
Fellow writers, heed my example and save yourself a lot of work: A large part of the reason that I am re-writing my book for the third time is that I had not nailed the theme the first two times around. I had not chosen one universal aspect of my experience that I would use to drive the main storyline, and the result was that I could never figure out why it kept feeling kind of flat.
Understanding theme has helped me enjoy reading as well. I’ve realized that there are certain themes that I enjoy more than others, and I now select new reads in part based on what the theme is. Here are some examples from popular books:
- BOOK: The Kite Runner | THEME: Redemption
- BOOK: The Help | THEMES: Finding empowerment in oppression; speaking the truth despite personal risk
- BOOK: Eat, Pray, Love | THEMES: Living life to the fullest; the search for spiritual enlightenment
- BOOK: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years | THEME: Living life to the fullest
- BOOK: Three Cups of Tea | THEMES: Living life to the fullest; finding fulfillment in giving back to others
I may not have perfectly articulated these themes, but you get the idea. Also, each author has his or her own take on the theme. E.g. In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on the theme of “living life to the fullest” seemed to be something like, “In order to live life to the fullest, a person must have complete autonomy to do whatever she wants” (or something like that). Interestingly, whenever I read a book that I just can’t seem to connect with, it almost always comes down to the author not seeming to have a clear theme.
Was all this talk of theme making you wonder if there could perhaps be any Christian themes in the classic children’s tale The Princess and the Pea? If so, you’re in luck. That’s exactly what Anna Mitchell and I were talking about on the SonRise Morning Show last week:
Remember how I gave up coffee a while back? The problem was that I often felt like a rage-filled madwoman about an hour after I’d drink a cup, probably due to blood sugar issues. Anyway, I’ve found that if I drink coffee on an empty stomach, it’s fine. As long as I have a cup before breakfast, I don’t experience any of the ill effects that used to hit me from my after-breakfast cup. Especially now that cold weather is here, I’m ridiculously excited about having coffee back in my life.
I’ll leave the linky list open until Tuesday for those of you who might want to do Quick Takes a little later this week due to holiday craziness. Merry Christmas, everyone!
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