The Writing Process: Finding and Creating Themes in Literature (Ep. 13)


Happy Thanksgiving!

This week, Jennifer differentiates between pulp, genre, and literary fiction — and how the narrative — or reader — reveals a universal truth called “theme.” Includes potential literary themes for THE HUNGER GAMES and TWILIGHT.


Let’s go over a few definitions:

  1. Pulp Fiction: No lesson, entertainment value.
  2. Genre Fiction: Lesson narrowed by individual details and revealed at the surface level.
  3. Literary Fiction: Key points in the narrative (surface level) trickle down into a universal truth or theme. The message is implied or suggested, but not directly stated.

One of the most common themes in literature is The Great Fall, or Loss of Innocence. This alludes to the Garden of Eden.

(Potential) themes that apply to the human condition in THE HUNGER GAMES

1) Gender Roles: Women are no longer feminine in the traditional sense.

Other surface level examples of Gender Roles:

  • Dressing little girls in pink, little boys in blue
  • Boys study hard sciences, girls study liberal arts
  • What defines inferior sexual behaviors (slut shaming)
  • What defines masculinity, femininity, or gender-neutral

2) Social Strategies: Young people are vicious in order to gain the spotlight (manipulation and exploitation for attention and fame).

Other surface level examples of Social Strategies:

  • Significant other sabotages your current friendships
  • Sacrifice of personal morals in high-stake entertainment industry
  • Exploiting colleagues to earn promotion, success, fame
  • Kids join bullies so they’re not bullied themselves

3) The Common Man: One ordinary person, through just a few heroic choices, changes the world because of the effect of those choices.

The Hunger Games isn’t about strong leading characters doing heroic deeds and single-handedly saving the world. Katniss was never taught to be a hero and isn’t meant to be a hero. Everyone in the The Hunger Games, except Katniss, has a Grand Plan — her only goal is to stay alive and protect her family. She is ordinary. The people in the districts feel worthless, but when Katniss (another worthless and weak character) makes a heroic choice – even if just one or three — these common folk believe they can also make heroic choices. (original post)

(Potential) themes that apply to the human condition in TWILIGHT

1) Adultery and Courtly Love: Sexual relations before marriage lead to spiritual death; courtly love alludes to sexual relations without getting in trouble for them. It’s a sweet spot between sex and keeping your soul pure.

Other surface level examples of Adultery or Courtly Love:

  • Corruption leads to inevitable failure: Dictators whose corruption destroyed lives, including their own
  • Extraordinary Rendition: Transferring terrorism suspects to countries known to employ torture for the purpose of interrogation

2) Dominance and Coercion: Submission to tyrant awards enormous pleasure.

Other surface level examples of Dominance and Coercion:

  • Rape fantasy: Role playing perpetrator or victim in coercive sex
  • Rape pornography: Overpowered or forced to surrender during sex
  • Cat and mouse: Surrender control and play into seductive schemes

So far in the writing process, we 1) wrote a scene that sparked a personal reaction 2) brainstormed ideas and collected information, and 3) created the 3-Act structure & 8-Point Arc.

This episode goes one step further, and it could happen before or after you write your novel, but, it’s basically just asking, “Do you want there to be some type of underlying meaning to your story?” And, the neatest part is that even if you choose one or the other, people will still be able to come up with their own interpretations of what you have written. So, if you don’t have an underlying meaning, someone out there will find one. And, if you do have an underlying meaning, someone will come up with a different underlying meaning, and they won’t be wrong if they can prove it through the symbols and metaphors you chose to use.

This should also be encouraging because it means you are not restricted: You don’t have to choose between literary, genre, pulp — and as a reader, you’re not restricted by what the author intends you to learn.

Roland Barthes (French literary theorist) says, if we focus on what the author wants us to learn, we limit ourselves to one single interpretation. He claims that the author is dead, and that meaning is provided through creative reading. A text is a work transformed through interpretation; it shouldn’t be self-contained.


View Episodes


View Narratives

Join the adventure by subscribing | Join Us Online:

New episodes are periodically posted on Mondays.

Share your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s