It’s all well and good to have a handy little focusing question and a bunch of answers, but how do we actively apply these to a story?
Here’s where we get to one of my most favourite parts of theme. Experiments in Living and Character Arcs.
Now, Experiments in Living (EiL) aren’t something you learn about in your general literacy class, so let me give you a quick explanation. To define it basically, an EiL is a person’s belief or view on a subject, and how that shapes the way they live and respond in certain situations and challenges.
Bob could have an EiL where he believes that revenge will make him happy. Tim could have an EiL where he believes that joy is only found while eating hamburgers.
Everyone has Experiments in Living. You have EiLs about different aspects of your life. Do you believe that it’s right to take someone else’s things without asking? No? Well, that’s an Experiment in Living.
Now, even though I used humorous and light EiL examples (joy is only found while eating hamburgers), a good Experiment should be much deeper. It should be the very core motive of why we act how we act.
They should be realistic and authentic to how people act in real life. There’s no use in trying to give a character the EiL that ‘hope only exists in roast potatoes’ because I highly doubt that will be relatable to most of your readers.
That’s what an Experiment in Living is, but how do you write them and what have they got to do with theme?
Now, raise your hand if you remember what I said in Theme Post #2. I said that coming up with lots of different answers to the Focusing Question was very important because you’d need it soon. That time of need is here and now.
An Experiment in Living is any one of those alternate answers. To return to my examples in the last theme post, and to scoop up a random character named John, I’ll show you what I mean.
Focusing Question: How can you keep up hope in the darkness?
John’s EiL could be to ‘Wait it out for the darkness to leave’ or to ‘Cling to the hope from the past’ or ‘If you look hard enough, hope can always be found somewhere.’ There’s many other options for Experiments, and plenty of characters have different ones.
While John thinks that it’s best to leave hope until after the darkness is gone, Liam might believe that he has to bring the hope.
So is the character’s original Experiment in Living the message of your book?
Because of Character Development.
If John begins your novel hiding away and waiting for the darkness to go and the hope to miraculously spring upon him…there’s a lot of room for him to grow and learn.
Before we get in to the actual character arc details (which will come in the next post), there’s still more important things to think about. In order to have a strong Experiment in Living (strong, not necessarily correct) you have to know why your character thinks that way.
What is it that makes John want to just wait out the darkness? What has happened in the past to make him believe that this is the best way?
Put yourself in John’s (or your character’s) shoes. Really delve deep to find the answers to these questions. Not only will your theme be stronger and deeper, but you’ll develop the foundations of who your character is and pave the way to make them more unique and more realistic than just your ordinary Tom, Dick, or Harry.
This is one of my favourite parts of theme, and it’s such an important element. Experiments in Living tie in the Theme and the characters—though we’ll get into the details of that more in the next post—and theme and characters are basically the best things ever, so I’m not complaining. 😉
Chat with me! Take the main character of your current WIP—What’s his/her answer to your Focusing Question? How would that same character answer my question ‘How can you keep up hope in the darkness’? Are you feeling ready to tackle the theme in your novel yet? 😛