Saturday, 7 November 2009

Themes

I was revising some short stories the other day, and I couldn't help but notice something. There were four of them: one about where evil fantasy villains come from (and no, it doesn't go "One day, when a mummy villain and a daddy villain love one another very much..."), one about where supervillains get their plans, one about what it's like guarding your basic stronghold of evil, and one about zombie furniture.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm sensing a bit of a pattern here. Which is slightly interesting, because I've never really been able to understand how those themed collections that authors and poets produce occasionally come into being. I guess I thought that they sat down and said "right, I'm jolly well going to write a collection, and it's going to be about..." (because of course all authors speak like rejects from Wodehouse).

What yesterday seems to suggest, instead, is that they have a look through their work one day and think "Gosh, these short stories all seem a bit similar. I wonder what I should do with them" at which point they obviously call over their butler/manservant, who suggests the cunning plan of calling them a collection and pretending that they meant it all along. (Look, I'm sorry, I'll stop now.) That certainly seems to have been the case with Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, where the joining idea of all the stories being individual moving tattoos, while very clever, clearly came as an afterthought.

Of course, it might not be like that at all. It might be that people genuinely do sit down with a theme, a blank series of computer files, and the will to turn that theme into an amazing series of stories/poems. It's possibly slightly more likely that they think "that's a great theme", power through the first few from sheer inspiration, and then somehow scrape the rest together. I don't know. Maybe you do. Have you ever sat down and tried to write to a theme? Or have you found your work following the same theme without noticing you were doing it? Have you ever heard authors talking like something from the nineteen twenties? I'd like to know.

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