I contend that it's okay to change themes in the middle of the writing process but not during the story telling process. You start with a theme and figure out you want to go somewhere else. So, you go back to the beginning and rework the story. Your theme is there from the beginning of your story to the end. If you introduce a secondary theme mid-story, it too has been set up from the beginning. So it's not really a CHANGE.
Stories, as we all know, are transitionary during the writing process.. wait. If we all know it, why do I feel compelled to mention it? I dislike stating what goes without saying almost as much as I dislike the contradictory nature of phrase "it goes without saying" since that which goes without saying is usually pointed out the moment we decide that it does, indeed, NOT need to be said.
And why do we even say "it does, indeed"? Isn't that redundant? Because if it does, it is already a fact. Said fact's existence is established. Indeed.
Stories, regardless of how well thought out they are, morph and blossom and wither and regenerate somewhere between inception and outline, again between outline and first draft, and then back and forth and, quite possibly, all over the place through subsequent drafts. We start out with a purpose - here's what I want to say and how I want to say it - but somewhere in the writing process we decide to amend that purpose.
Now let me ask you this... Okay, wait. There I go again. Stating what goes without saying because if I ask a question, is there really any need to inform a reader that I'm about to ask a question when they'll figure it out as soon as the question is asked?
Where was I?
Okay, so suppose your theme starts out as a Bruce Banner and somewhere mid-story it becomes the Incredible Hulk. Anger triggers Banner's change. What triggered your theme change? Something in the story caused such an overwhelming conflict in the theme that it became something else. Maybe now, it's grander than you intended. Maybe it's more thoughtful and subtle. Either way, the theme is now a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Are you really going to try to force the Bruce Banner-ish theme, mild but oh so endearing, to take on the role of the Incredible Hulk? Banner isn't Hulk. Only Hulk is Hulk. So which is it? A Banner theme or a Hulk theme. Your theme must be dealt with either way.
Anyone following my tangled thought process at all? It really was a well thought-out argument about changing themes until I sat at the keyboard and discovered how many empty things in the English language we say like "it goes with out saying" and "let me ask you this" and "I couldn't care less". That one really bugs me.. "I couldn't care less" indicates that you don't care at all which, if true, would not merit the mention of that which you don't care about.
Okay, so Bruce Banner isn't Hulk. I had a Banner theme. Now, it's a Hulk theme. What to do. Do I let my theme evolve as the story does or do I let the story evolve around one theme or the other? Why can't Banner and Hulk co-exist as themes in my story? Maybe they can but not as a single theme. If my theme mutates mid-story, aren't I writing two stories? Should I just use whichever theme fits, right? Any ol' port in the storm?
Just as this post is a strobe-light of helter skelter flashes of lucidity and stupidity and you, the reader, have had to pause to understand anything it says, I am suggesting that if we don't know the theme to our own stories, we don't really know what it says. If we don't know what our own screenplay says, how can we say it?
I started out this post writing about changing themes but then I realized how much I really want to write about all the meaningless phrases we use in speech and on paper. I should probably just pick one point or the other and go back and edit this post so the reader can follow it. But then, neither point would be made.
You can't retro-fit a theme.
Oh yeah. Plenty of writers have told me you can just start writing a story and figure out the theme later as it reveals itself to you. But I contend that is not possible. Here's why. Only these things can happen with theme during the writing process.
- You start out with a theme from the beginning and stick with it
- You start out writing one theme but the story evolves so you change the theme and go back to #1
- You start out with a theme and realize you need a secondary theme so you go back to #1 with both themes.
- You start out with no theme and figure it out along the way and then go back to #1
So, as you can see, it all goes back to number one. So there is actually no need for me to write numbers 2, 3, and 4 because they don't really exist. And there is actually no need to ever write "is actually" because if something "is", it is real and already "actual".
You know why you can't change horses mid-stream? Because you gotta take the horse you're on back to the bank to get the horse you're changing to. You started over at the beginning of the stream with a new horse. You didn't really change horses mid-stream at all. Of course, you could take a second horse along with you and get off one horse mid-stream and then mount the other one. But again, you didn't CHANGE horses mid-stream. You had both horses all along.
It goes without saying.