Thursday, February 23, 2012


When writing a novel, it’s useful, at some point, to consider what themes have emerged in your story. I say emerged because I think in most cases writers don’t start out with a strong idea of the thematic intent of their work. They may consider what type of story they want to write, what the inciting event, main event, or denouement will be, or have a strong idea about character or world, but theme? Not so much. Certainly that’s been true for me in developing the Kresh novels, and now that I’m nearing the end of a consolidated first draft, it’s useful to think about themes. Useful, in particular when it comes to looking at a second draft and working out what story elements to strengthen, or link, or drop. It’s a weird symbiosis that by working to bring the theme – once you’ve identified it – into sharper relief, you actually make the story stronger. It hangs together more, simply because it’s more obviously ‘about something’. Saying it like that sounds prosaic, but I think it’s only ‘self-evident’ when you realise it is.

Of course understanding the theme of the story also helps you sell it to others – readers, publishers, whatever. Because it focuses your ability to explain what the story’s about. So what are the Kresh novels about? Interestingly, to me anyway, because I didn’t plan it this way – I was just following some bad stuff that happened to a particular alien – it’s about how societies are wounded by trauma, how they react to that trauma and how the actions of individuals can bring about necessary healing.

The Kresh society is guided by a desire to attain perfection. As a consequence Kresh born with defects or otherwise injured are euthenased. No-one questions this. When the war comes and the invading Hegemony deliberately mutilate large numbers of Kresh, the result is mass suicides and murders. The traumatised society is still clinging to the old ways but those ways are damaging it further. Jeldon is one of the mutilated excisees. Despite great personal suffering, he refuses to suicide or to be executed. Through his struggles he demonstrates the idiocy of carrying on with the old ways and helps to heal and transform his society.

The human-based Hegemony is ruthlessly aggressive. Their policy of attack and subjugate first is what keeps them safe and strong. That policy grew out of an early encounter with a deadly alien species that all but destroyed humanity. In that light their defensive/ aggressive response is understandable and as the memory of that trauma faded, those in control did all they could to generate and nurture a fear of outsiders in order to reinforce that response and ensure the continued safety of the species. Rhys was part of the Hegemony war machine until he was ruthlessly used and discarded by the leader of the Diplomatic Corps. Damaged, perhaps not in such an overt way as Jeldon, he sees that humanity has lost its moral compass. Teaming up with Jeldon he devises a plan to bring war to the Hegemony, not to destroy them, but to force them to see that their worldview is extreme and, ultimately, self-defeating.

There’s an obvious symmetry that’s emerged in the story which is really pleasing and, I think, the path is becoming a little clearer for me in how to go about the second draft.

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