Easter Eggs and Hidden Themes – Part 7 of the Right That Novel Series
A truly unique plot line is difficult, if not impossible to find let alone create. Actually, writing something so “new” and “unique” may be a great literary achievement, but as with most such achievements, your brilliance will more than likely be discovered some hundred years after your death. If you really want discovery (okay fame) and really want to connect to readers then your best course is familiar but different.
There is plenty of research on my last statement. Much of it comes from the music industry and what makes it to the radio rotation. I won’t bore you with all the details, but listeners stay tuned in to new songs that have familiar qualities even though that familiarity is at a level of consciousness below awareness. Books are the same. We want the next Harry Potter or Cujo or Twilight – not exactly the same, but sort of the same. The trouble is that simply writing someone else’s plot is boring. And boring is no fun. And no fun means you don’t have the energy or passion to write it.
The answer is themes, symbolism and Easter eggs.
Hopefully you know why you are writing your novel. You have something to say beyond – X went to Y and then Z happened. It’s that stuff below the surface that drives the passion to write the story. Once you are hooked on that stuff, the writing becomes both fun and easy because it’s the place where you really tap into your creative energies.
We interact with people all the time. Beneath those interactions is a host of subplots and meanings. There is a theme to our life and themes within the events of our lives. That’s what makes a story. The plot can be anything – it is interesting when it says more than the sum of the words.
So answer these three questions:
What is the theme of your story?
What things symbolize that theme?
Short of being Captain Obvious, how can you work those things in naturally?
If you can’t sum up your story theme in a single sentence, you will have a difficult time staying on track. The plot will feel dry and contrived. Here’s an example of my theme. It may appear that I wrote a zombie book. On the surface I did. However, what I actually wrote was this – “What is the cost of love and loyalty in a dead world?” That is the single question throughout the series. Over and over I return to it, I try to answer it, I see what it means when the characters answer it. Can my readers see it? Some do, some don’t, it doesn’t matter if they do, what matters is that it is the engine behind the story. Here are two reviews that demonstrate the some do/some don’t see it aspect of themes:
Fans of the horror genre will not be disappointed by the philosophical questions Esposito mixes in with the blood and gore. These are questions we all must ask ourselves, whether or not we are being chased by zombies – From the Sacramento Review
In most ways this is a pretty by-the-books take on zombie survival fiction. The story has a good sense of suspense and drama, which is necessary for good zombie survival stories – An Amazon Reviewer
So depending on what you are looking at, it is a story with philosophical questions or a pretty by-the books take.
It was both. The theme is there and within that single question I can ask a host of related questions about love, friendship, faith, leadership, loyalty. When I write a scene, I am not just dealing with X+Y= Z, I’m working on much more – that makes the writing a lot more fun.
So what is it you really want to explore? What do you want to say? The genre doesn’t matter. The same themes work in mysteries as horror as chic lit.
I could have chosen any genre to write about my themes. But what drives my writing passion are horror stories. And most of my stories have one overreaching theme – the resilience of human beings. For me there is no better place to examine human psychology and a person’s character than in a world of horror. So my passion to write is really a passion to explore and examine the human condition. You are writing because you have more to say than just your plot. There are themes in your life, things you want to explore and to examine…make them the undertone of your book. You don’t have to be all Keats or William Blake – life has humor after all. You don’t need long explanatory paragraphs spelling it out (Like Ayn Rand did in Atlas Shrugged). I think one of the best examples of the theme “love or duty” was Hemingway’s, For Whom the Bell Tolls. No long complex sentences. No challenging vocabulary. A simple a direct contemplation of choice.
Symbolism is another mechanism to drive your creativity. It can be tricky business to not make the symbols too obvious. I love the use of symbolism (because I love psychology). My character Devin is the young and reluctant leader of the survivors. In typical Hero’s Journey fashion, Devin injures his leg. So he is a reluctant leader who has physical impediment to the act of leading – that’s another leadership theme – “leading from behind.” There are of course more. In book two there is a chapter titled “By Bell, Book, and Candle.” That was a term and process used by the Catholic Church to ex-communicate sinners. Each subtitle within the chapter is one of the original seven deadly sins. The chapter is a point where the survivors do what? Yep, lose faith. Try it for your own story. Do some research, get creative, I promise it will add an entirely new dimension to both the writing and how you feel about your writing.
And then there are Easter Eggs. I love them. Both the real kind and the one’s we find in books and software. They are little special finds we discover when we really look below the surface. I mean really look. If you’re not familiar with the term look up Microsoft Excel easter eggs and you’ll discover what’s hidden in your worksheet. I will give you one example from my second book in the series. There is a sub-chapter (all my chapters have three subsections) that serves as a transition – when we hear the voice of the narrator commenting on the group of survivors. The theme is the universe reflected in these broken survivors. If you count the words in that subsection they total 2,584. A Fibonacci Number. Fibonacci numbers are tied to the golden ratio and reflect a natural mathematical order found in the seeming chaos of nature. I know, deep right.
A lot of work for a zombie novel isn’t it? Not really. These are the things that drive my writing. It’s the themes and symbols and Easter eggs that drive my passions, that make writer’s block a thing only spoken about, that easily let me choose writing over catching up on Pretty Little Liars or whatever. The themes will be your tipping point in writing. They don’t need to be perfect or classic, they don’t even need to be agreeable to all. Just discover what you “really want to say” and then do what writers do – say it indirectly, through a 300 page story. It will be the most fun you have behind the keyboard….and possibly make you want to drive even more people crazy speaking about your “book.”
From those themes you will have the most important of story elements – Characters. The discovery of your characters will be the final piece in driving your passion. Once my characters came to life, once I loved them and the things they could or would do, everything else was easy. Characters however are often the reason people don’t finish their story writing. Knowing if you have the right characters is as easy as asking the question…
Part 8: Are you cliché?
Categories: Right the Novel!