5 Ways to Use Theme to Create Character Arc (and Vice Versa) by K.M. Weiland - Usa

Mis à jour : 30 août 2019


What’s the easiest way to find your story’s theme—and make it stick? Although any discussion of theme is multi-faceted, one of the best ways to approach this complex topic is through the realization that you can use theme to create character arc—and vice versa.

When asked to explain what a particular story is about, some people may respond with a plot answer: “It’s about the end of the world.”

Others may even respond with a theme answer: “It’s about whether it’s morally acceptable to save a few at the cost of the many.”

But implicit within either answer is character.

Indeed, the third possible answer is, of course, straight-up about the characters: “It’s about astronauts.”

The end of the world and its incumbent moral quandaries are hardly interesting unless people are involved. (Or at least anthropomorphic entities. Watership Down, after all, is an extremely engaging apocalypse.)

Identifying Your Story’s Text, Context, and Subtext

So am I saying story is really character? ‘Cause a couple weeks ago, I said story is really theme. So… what gives?

If theme is a story’s soul and plot is its mind, then character is its heart. Character is always and ever the life force of story. But what is life without meaning? Even in stories that wish to posit the meaning of life is there is no meaning, that’s still a meaning. That’s still a theme.

The bottom line is you can’t have a proper story without people (characters) doing stuff (plot)—the very highlighting of which inevitably comments upon reality (theme).

Together, this trinity of storytelling mutually generates the text, context, and subtext.

The outer conflict, represented by plot, exists on the story’s exterior and most visual level. This is the text.

The inner conflict, represented by character arc, exists on the story’s interior level. This is the context. It provides the first layer of commentary on the plot’s events. When viewed through the differing context of different characters’ inner struggles, a plot’s text can take on many different meanings.

Finally, the story’s theme nestles in the center of the Venn. It may never be seen; it may never be explicitly spoken of or referenced. But even silent, it creates the subtext. Depending on how the other two elements are presented, this subtext may either cohesively support or ironically juxtaposethe story’s text and context.

In short, it would seem the character’s personal relationship with the plot events is what creates the thematic subtext. This is 100% true. But if viewed from another vantage, it becomes clear that an aware author can also shape the story in the opposite direction by consciously using theme to create character arc.

5 Steps to Use Theme to Create Character Arc

Effective character arcs are inherently related to thematic presentation. This means all discussions of character arc are really discussions of theme. Character arc is, in itself, a deep and complex subject, which I’ve explored in many other posts and, of course, my book Creating Character Arcs (and its companion workbook). For the sake of expediency, today’s post assumes a basic understanding of character-arc principles, but if you want more info, check out the preceding links.

If you want to read more, I give you on the website: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com

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