Themes Emerge

drama, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

Themes exist in our world.

Being awake means noticing when themes emerge.

Some people argue that invoking theme in your work is artificial — theme is a by-product of the story you’re telling, and your audience will see what they want in it.

I argue that watching and tracing the ways in which themes emerge — in stories, out there in the world — is what storytelling is.

This is an anxious time for T.V writers — staffing season, when the network shows hire their writers. This morning a friend let me know that my manager’s client’s show had just gotten picked up, and his agent told him they were desperate for women writers. I asked my manager about it, and she said not true, they’ve already got the women they want. And they’re all lawyers. Even the staff writer they want is a lawyer. The janitor’s a lawyer. The dog is a lawyer. Ok. Got it. I should have gone to law school to be a T.V. writer.

And I’m anxious about other stuff too. I want to be loved.

I know a piece — whether it’s a pilot, a blog post, a joke, whatever — feels like one of mine when it starts dovetailing —

Writing I want to be loved just now brought me close, after roaming on this post for two days —

I went to a teahouse in Koreatown and back to my couch, changed clothes three times. I’ve eaten and eaten — am I getting fatter or is that another feeling I’m dodging, that wants to speak?

I abandon most of these posts. I write far more of them than I publish.

The word “abandoned” is such a fucking cliche. I hate saying it, and I wouldn’t if it weren’t such an accurate word. It’s such a joke now to talk about people with abandonment issues, but how do you explain people who roam, whose thoughts are restless, who can’t or won’t focus until they finally write the words “I want to be loved.” And when you do , a fresh wave rises —

I vowed the other day to be funnier in these posts. They’re getting Czech arthouse dreary. Next thing you know I’m going to have a table of indigent old people sitting around cracking hard-boiled eggs until one of them gets dragged away by the state interrogators.

So the anxiety is not free-floating. It’s specific, and it emerges. It shape-shifts. It takes the form of lawyers getting all the T.V. writer jobs. And it takes the form of my hunger. Of not knowing where my next meal’s coming from, if it’s coming at all. My lack of faith. I don’t know if I’ll have a job, and I don’t know if I’ll be loved. I don’t know when I’ll find out.

Themes emerge. I knew I wanted to write about theme, because I loved what John August said about it here, and blogging is a conversation. But when I started this post, I didn’t know how I was going to write about theme — in what context, with what examples. You start, you have an idea in mind, you find places in your story to bounce that idea around. Your story becomes an echo chamber, and you carve out more and more interesting folds in the walls. The tracing of the bounce becomes your theme.

In the story here, I wanted to write about theme, I wanted to make it immediate and personal and emotional. So that narrowed the frame greatly, because what’s going on today? Anxiety. But I could have told any number of stories about anxiety and staffing season, anxiety and love — it becomes a story about theme when you draw the parallel between them, waiting, the hunger for them both, the jar of sunflower seed butter I won’t stop eating — a jar that never fills my hunger. The way I can’t stop touching my belly. What connects T.V.-writing-lawyers to the touching of my belly.

The joke I wrote on Twitter last week about douchey guys who try to worm their way in by reassuring you about your body — and I’m like, reassure me about my career, jerk-off. This joke hits deep with me, where stuff hurts.

Hey, I put a joke on here — and proved I’m completely incapable of being funny here. This must be my ponderous, serious space, like when Americans go to Europe and feel we have to prove ourselves. This is my Europe. God help you all.

For theme to emerge, give it a space, a context, two adjoining contexts, and then pop your idea inside like a pinball. Watch it bounce around. What emerges will be a tracing that’s dense, provocative, layered. This is your theme.