Illustration by Jun Cen
I thought this was going to be a straightforward post, but the more I read about theme and the more I work at detecting it in the novels I read, the more I see that it's an elusive truth that is multilayered and can mean many things to many people, and even to the author it's a truth that can be appear as a singular vision, or can change and fluctuate and focus and dissolve and continue forming as the book is written. As such it is a feeling, an understanding of the world in a particular way that stems from one emotion and grows into a statement which rings true for the book. It can start with one word, the idea I have played around with in this post. For TUBE it's fear. Everything centers around fear. And there are layers on top of that fear that manifest in multiple ways, the main three of which are plot, structure and character (this I have picked up from Theme & Strategy by Ronald B. Tobias), but the emotion remains the same. I'll peel it apart for you so you can see the layers.
1. PLOT: Face your fear to overcome it.
Every scene in TUBE is played out according to this theme. In every scene the characters face their fears and do something that brings them toward overcoming it, or moves them away from it. If a scene fails to accomplish this, I either cut it or rewrite it.
2. STRUCTURE: The mystery of fear. Who is scared of whom/what and why?
The best structure to fit TUBE is an idea story, a mystery, when a question gets asked in the beginning and answered in the end. Who is afraid of whom/what and why? Every scene must give an answer to a question that leads to the next question, and to the next question, until the big question is answered. Those questions are three big questions (one for each act) and lots of little questions (one for each scene) that sum up to one. For example, in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea the main question is, Will the man win over the fish? And within this main question the act questions are: Act 1. Will he catch any fish? Act 2. Will he catch the big fish? Act 3. Will he keep the big fish?
3. CHARACTERS: Every character has a fear.
That's every character's arc in TUBE: at the beginning every character is afraid of something, at the end that fear is conquered (or not).