THEME & MOOD
I ask myself this for most of my work, what is the theme (or themes) and what’s the mood of the piece? I have taken this lovely pair from the World of Darkness series of roleplaying game books. In their introductions, each one gives a sentence to describe the theme and mood, then a paragraph to elaborate on it. They give an impression of what the book’s going for, and what the person running the game (the Storyteller) can aim for to get the best results.
I use the same for non-White Wolf roleplaying games, as a pointer to myself for what kind of game I’ll run. It acts as the flavour, a cornerstone you can go back to when you’re describing the situation, trying to determine a plot action or a new subplot. If it fits the themes of the piece, then it’ll slot in perfectly. If it’s diametrically opposed, well, it might work, but think about what you’re doing, just in case.
The theme answers, “What is this story about?” Joss Whedon once said that every story is about something, even if it’s about nothing. This doesn’t need to be an overt message like, “guns are bad” or, “we’re wrecking the planet”. Even if you think your book is just another standard high fantasy with white hats and black hats and nothing else going on in-between, there might be more. As the Overthinking It website often proves, sometimes the author doesn’t seem to know what’s under the surface of their book. Sometimes they know way too well and hammer it home, like Twilight’s chaste Mormon allegory, for instance.
If the Theme is “A Voyage of Discovery”, then everything’s new and interesting. They shouldn’t be in the same place twice, they should be investigating things, finding out what’s new. If the Theme is, “A Triage of Apocalypses” then they’re going to have too many world-shaking problems and have to pick what they want to save. Those are both parts of current campaigns, a Doctor Who RPG and a dark fantasy game where evil has already won.
If you’re aware of your book’s themes, or the themes people might draw from it, then you know how to twist them to your whims, to take the audience on the ride you want them to go on.
Theme is the brain behind your project, and mood (or tone) is all about the heart. Where does your project’s heart lie? What are the underlying emotions in your story. This can colour your project, both literally and figuratively. If it’s a “claustrophobic horror”, you can make the locations physically cramped, dark, uncomfortable.
EXAMPLES FROM PREVIOUS NOVELS
- Point of Departure’s Theme is “A Tribe Brought Together by Tragedy”, the cast are locked together in an alien environment and grow as a tribe through it. Friendships are made, alliances forged, and of course, shattered.
- Point of Departure’s Mood is “Claustrophobic Horror”, Everything’s tight and confined. I made a map of the airport, to help drive that point home. No one can be anywhere without treading on each other, no one can really be alone here.
- Lightning’s Theme is “Weird is the New Normal”, the main cast of Lightning are super-powered aliens hiding on Earth. The thing is, their problems are normal world problems, made better and worse all at once by their powered nature. The island setting is a strange place anyway, populated by eccentrics already. There is no baseline for ‘normal’ in this world, which admittedly is my belief in our world, too.
- Lightning’s Mood is “Light & Positive”, I admit, scene two is a torture scene, but for the most part, Lightning is a book about the innate good in all people, even the bad ones. About how family are always there no matter how much they annoy you, and how the world is ultimately a good place. The light is brighter in this book, the sea shines, there’s a kind of radiance about the setting because of this.
- London Knights‘ Theme is “A Mundane & Magical World” Again with the, ‘weird things are good’ from me, but I guess that’s an underlying theme in all my work, which is an interesting realisation. Still, in this case it’s more that the world around us is seen as this big, grey thing. It’s all square, all fits some formalised plan, and all ordered by things far above us. In the case of this book, and in real life, history is stranger than we’re taught. The world is madder than we think, and all it takes is a little perspective to show us that.
- London Knights’ Mood is “Wonder & Danger”, The world is beautiful and horrible all at the same time. The enchanted forest at the back of a video shop might be a moment of pure beauty, but then there are unknowable things lurking in the great nothing underneath the Tower of London. At times it can often seem randomly good or bad, and that makes the world a scary place, even if it’s simultaneously more beautiful for it.
THIS YEAR’S PROJECT
The Theme of this year’s project is, “Smart People Doing Dumb Things”. The characters are idiots, but not in the simple sense. They are smart, they’ve learned to survive in a desolate town with no potential. A lot of them have given up ‘playing the game’ of trying to get good grades and then enter a society with no place for them. Instead, there’s an easy way out. As smart as these kids are, they are kids, and match their smart planning with a ludicrous goal, and make things increasingly worse for themselves. Even the other cast members are in this position, a sheriff who doesn’t see his own daughter’s involvement with such a dangerous plan, a security guard who has wasted his potential.
The Mood of this year’s project is, “Bleak”. The landscape is massive, open, barren, with nothing there. Greenville, the fictional setting of the story, is named after the most common town name in the United States. Everything was homogenised, bland and characterless, but now even all of that had been closed down, abandoned. There’s nothing here, physically, emotionally or spiritually. The place the kids go to drink is a sofa abandoned a mile or so out of town. The colours will be washed out, the terrain will be sun-bleached and neglected. The only place to contrast this, of course, will be the road out of town. And that’s what will drive the cast’s actions…
NEXT: One of my favourite sections – Character
MY NANOWRIMO PAGE: http://nanowrimo.org/en/participants/charlie-x