Sarah Barr

Writer, poet and teacher

Themes Emerge

Continuing with the idea of theme – I believe that this emerges during the course of writing. I rarely start out with the idea of writing about a theme. I start with an image, an overheard conversation, a person, a place, an emotion. But as I write I become aware of what the story or poem is really about. Then I work to strengthen this with tone, image, repetition, plot and character development.

One way of strengthening a theme is to have two threads or stories running alongside each other within the one whole story, and I do this a lot in my writing.

Themes make themselves known in echoes and reverberations in a story, poem or sequence of stories and poems. Settings can strengthen themes, for example the hotel setting in Ali Smith’s novel, ‘Hotel World’.

In my short story, ‘At the Launderette’, which won one of the Yellow Room competitions and was published in issue 2, I explore themes of prejudice and loss. But I started the story with a visit to our local launderette to remind myself of some of the characteristics of this place (I used them as a student but now only if my washing machine’s broken!).

You don’t need to explain your theme to your readers – they should be able to uncover it for themselves. The title of your story, poem or sequence may give a clue! I’m thinking of ‘Persuasion’ or ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.

Theme and Voice seem to be linked – both develop through writing and through developing the confidence to say how we see the world.

As I say in an article in the May edition of ‘Writers Forum’: ‘I don’t think we need to worry that our writing will just be imitation, If we are true to our own way of seeing the world, this will inevitably shine through. The more we write, the more distinctive our voice will become.’

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