Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Theme Is . . .

David McCullough, in his introduction to Brave Companions: Portraits in History, remarks that he is often asked about his current writing, “What is your theme?” He confesses that, in the early stages of a project, he rarely can say. “To find the answer is one of the chief reasons for undertaking the story,” he writes.

What a relief to hear a veteran writer make such a confession! I am learning that
stories tend to write themselves as their characters take on a life of their own, so as I plow through the fourth draft of the novel I am now writing, I am still asking that question about its theme.

At one moment I think
The Tattoo is about ambition and the things to which it drives us. That’s the story of Gus, my antagonist. But then I wonder if it isn’t about trust, and what happens when it fails? That’s the story of Georgia, who has lost her trust in Matt.

Or maybe it’s about persistence, which is the story of Lettie, the private investigator who is trying to clear Matt’s name. Then there's Lettie's husband, Barry, the associate pastor who wouldn’t think of trying to unseat the senior minister. Loyalty is a worthy theme.

But in the end it comes around to the beleaguered Dr. Matt. He’s just flawed enough that I can’t say his overarching theme is the triumph of virtue, though that comes close. Where his marriage to Georgia is concerned, in the subplot, it’s the triumph of love.

Well, when the story has been fully told, I trust I’ll know. And that’s what motivates me to persist in my writing of The Tattoo.

Post script: I could also blog about titles.
This book started out with the working title, Megachurch, but I am now calling it The Tattoo. In the end I may add an adjective: The Preacher’s Tattoo, or The Hidden Tattoo or That Damn Tattoo. Do any of these grab you?

~ Bert Johnston
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1 comment:

  1. I'm voting for "The Preacher's Tattoo". It works on multiple levels. First, it's catchy, in a double-take kind of way. Second, it will give you the chance to smile slyly at readers who ask "Do you have one, too?"