Theme and Self Awareness

When asked about themes during high school, I just stared at the teacher.  No one ever explained what a theme was.  It was like everyone should read the work and know right off the bat what it means.

[Writer’s Stuff] [About Cat Hartliebe]
Yeah, that doesn’t work.  For anyone really.  I have no idea if anyone in my graduating class had any idea how to review a literacy work at all.  I struggled in college too.  My degree leaned on science, though, so most of my writing was very straight forward.  I can compound information like no one’s business.

I still struggle to explain theme.

The problem being, Cyro has asked about theme now.  Okay, not exactly.  They read Lord of the Flies the other day.  They loved it, sort of.  They probably prefer the distance offered between the chaos and the reader.  The pull back always let me read without crying.  If I was there in the story during the deaths instead of looking on as an innocent bystander, I wouldn’t be able to read it.  Considering I can feel the same way reading about wars where high death totals accrued…  It’s easier to gain the information when there is distance.

Back to Cyro.  Cyro stared at the book after finishing it.  They didn’t “get” it.  So their first thought after asking me what it “meant” was to reread.  I didn’t have an answer right away.  I only kind of remember reading it a year or so ago.  Lord of the Flies was a nice read, I guess.  It didn’t connect with me because it didn’t have me crying throughout.  So given I couldn’t answer the question, I pulled up the computer.  Other people have reviewed and written long detailed analysis on Lord of the Flies.  Minus the new books or books that haven’t seen a lot of eyes, stories get that level of treatment.  (Still waiting for one of mine to get that treatment.)

Spark notes was the first hit.  No surprise.  They make money off analysis.  With a few print outs in hand, we gave a short conversation reminding me the horrifying story that didn’t make me cry.  Then I told him to read the spark notes information.  After reading the notes, reread the book.  They did.  It made a lot more sense to them after reading the notes.  They could see the struggle in a different light.

This entire event doesn’t surprise me at all either.  Our brains being wired differently don’t see theme and symbols as easily as a neurotypical.  We want to math.  In stories, there is an equation, but it’s more complex than calculus.

They’re constantly telling me, “Writing is natural for you.”

No, it’s not.  I was a reader.  I’m still a reader.  It can be a bad habit even.  I saw a sign on the road while driving that I “needed” to read and almost swerved into the blockade.  This can be considered the point of bad habit since it can cause problems.  Normally, I’m better than that.  Or I recall I can read it when I pull over.  I’ve done that.  I’ve pulled to the side of the road just to read something off a sign.

Still all my reading didn’t give me that background needed to pass literacy tests in school.  And even now if someone asks me what is theme, I stare at them confused.  I shouldn’t.  But my best answer is through explanations not a definition.  No one ever explained it to me.  I’ve only read about it online.

When I was younger, I was a complete fail with analysis.  I could tell you the plot of a story.  But then when asked about emotions, I’d stare at you blankly.  I feel deeply, but that may not be what the character feels.  When asked why did the author write this?  I would say because it was there to be written.  As if the act of writing gives enough of a reason to write.

That’s not acceptable.  And now a full decade later I can see what they mean even among my own writing.  Why do I write this?  Why is it I create characters as I do?  What’s my theme?  Is there a common theme among all my stories?

Yes.  I had no idea I always wrote so similarly.  I always sought the same thing.  A thing I still haven’t found.  A found so many other seek as well and can’t find.




Looking through my stories, I find a lot of different characters seeking that same thing.  “Please accept me.”  “Please treat everyone equal.”  “Please be honest.”  Within Unbelievable and Unbreakable it’s very clear Equality is the main goal.  He states it often enough.  And others state it for him.  Adain/Zeus wants equality for his country.  He wants to bring his country back to what it was while opening up the allowance to everyone to just be themselves.  He doesn’t wish to go to war for this goal either.  He wants to use as much conversation as he can to bring about his peace.  He does all of this for those who lack the name he carries.  His name grants him a level of protection.

Hidden within all of the Leagende series is this common theme of acceptance.  Acceptance of family, of friends, of the country.

The stories I wrote as a child were acceptance as the most common reason.  The biggest reason for writing.  I write romance in basically every story, but somehow acceptance has won as my most prominent story theme.  Love doesn’t win.

Perhaps because love isn’t a big theme as much as I write romance, I don’t fit the category of Romance very well.  I still get the happily ever afters more often than not.  But really, acceptance falls either into fantasy or fiction.

How can I pick a genre based off of theme?  Is this normal?  Honestly, I think theme is far more important for choosing a genre than the plot.  What exactly happens doesn’t give you a clear understanding of what the story is about.  If I gave a simple plot of boy meets girl and they fall in love, what theme do we automatically expect?  Love.  It’s a romance, right?  The main goal is love.  But it doesn’t have to be.  What if the boy is this little ten year old and the girl is a small puppy?  Now do you think love?  It still follows the script.  It could be responsibility in this case.  I don’t know.  The plot isn’t the only piece to the puzzle.  I can write a story about a monster killing a city and have the theme be love.  You can too if you try.  Love is so pervasive that it’s no surprise any story can have love as a theme.

But I’m pulling out of love one piece that’s beyond important and doesn’t have to just be within a loving relationship.  Acceptance is actually a basis point to love.  If you cannot accept someone, you cannot love them.  Normally I head from acceptance into equality not to love, so even with my romances, it’s not the same.

Acceptance isn’t a typical theme because it won’t come from a rich white male author.  Ever.  They’ve never felt that feeling of not being accepted.  It’s impossible to write about something you never felt.

Before I was bullied, I have no idea what I wrote about.  I was too small for anything more complex than the dog chased the ball across the yard.  Or riding a horse.  Or learning to swim.  Actually, I think I did write about swimming in the ocean as a small child before the bullying began.  But it was scribbles.  I live next to the ocean, it sounds like a plot I’d come up with.  I’ve always had a nice healthy level of fear from the ocean.  Swimming in a pool was possible for little me.  The ocean was impossible and killed all desires to learn to swim.  I don’t think anyone noticed that.  I didn’t learn to swim until I was a teenager and it was still terrifying.  The ocean threw me for a serious loop when I was really little.

When I entered elementary school, though, acceptance was always the goal.  Because I never was.  I wasn’t accepted as smart.  I wasn’t acceptable for friendship.  I had no friends in school.  I wasn’t acceptable as a leader.  So every story since has been leaning on acceptance.  It may lean into another theme like equality or love, but it always starts as acceptance.  I always want my characters to gain that acceptance.  Because I never did.

Still don’t.  Even now.  It feels as if I can’t be myself and be accepted.  I know my family wouldn’t accept me.  I question if I really have any friends.  And I literally have zero support when it comes to writing.

And people wonder why I’m constantly thinking of suicide.  Those who aren’t accepted, who don’t feel accepted do that.  It has nothing to do with chemicals in the brain.  We were trained to be considered unwanted.

When I’m out, I wear my mask and pretend.  That’s all I can do.  It feels as if I can’t even wear a mask and pretend in such a way to gain acceptance.  Props to everyone who manages that.  I’m just going be over here planning the next character to gain acceptance.  And that character won’t be me.

[Writer’s Stuff] [About Cat Hartliebe]

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