Reader Question: Themes in Your Short Story

Here’s the question that came in:

On my current short story that I’m editing, my friend pointed out to me that there’s a pretty strong theme of feminism, and I can really see where he’s coming from. I didn’t intend for this theme to exist though and in fact meant for another theme that is completely irrelevant to this one. Is this a problem then? Because I’m worried that the feminism might detract from the other theme, or something like that. But on the other hand, maybe its good that people can get different things out of different reads. What do you think?

*******

This is a great question.  I think that sometimes, when we write, our subconscious minds layer in things that we didn’t know we were thinking about or didn’t expect would come into the story (or poem, or play, or essay, etc.) at hand.  There have been several occasions when my writers’ group has analyzed a chapter or a scene in such a way that made me think, yeah, of course, that’s exactly what I was going for, but I had no idea of it at the time I was drafting it.  Writing is a funny beast that way.  And when I say funny, I mean extraordinary.

Feminism may be a philosophy that matters to you on a personal, daily basis.  Literature does not exist in a vacuum; writers are always influenced in one way or another by their lives, their experiences, their environment.  The adage that one should write what one knows doesn’t mean all fiction comes from one’s own past, but rather that we need to acknowledge that the more we know about a subject — or an emotion, or a theme, or the Human Condition in general — the more authentically we can write about it.

I don’t see anything wrong with having more than one theme in a single manuscript, even if they seem unrelated to you at first blush.  Back in school we used to joke that a piece of literature was deep if it “operated on so many different levels.”  We were being tongue-in-cheek and cracking ourselves up with this quip, but it was funny in part because it is true.  If it weren’t, it wouldn’t have become a cliché in the first place.

Hope that helps.  🙂  Anyone else want to chime in, feel free.

 

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4 thoughts on “Reader Question: Themes in Your Short Story

  1. JStein

    Heh. Nicely put. This reminds me of an advice column I’m occasionally called upon to write on OKC – though mine’s explicitly bad advice. Ahem…

    Dear Devoted to ManWhore in Seattle: Listen to your heart, not your head or lying eyes or that burning sensation. You should totally trust him. That’s what relationships are built on, right?

    Dear Itchy&Scratchy in Fresno: I wouldn’t worry about it – it’ll probably clear up on it’s own.

    Dear Photoshoppepwner in Texas: It’s probably not that huge of an issue. Once your online amour finally meets you and your charming personality in the flesh, you’ll probably both have a great big laugh over it. After all, what’s a little fib, 12 years and 80 extra pounds between friends… or lovers?

    Like

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