Of Theme and Magic
I’ve had a major breakthrough.
When I set out to write The Clans, my goals were humble. I wanted to introduce you to the world of the novel I was working on, The Born Sword. I also wanted to build that world, to develop it in ways that I could use in the novel, and I do that best by writing about it. And finally, I wanted to perhaps share a ripping good yarn or two.
These six stories were to be bound together through the world in which they took place. That’s it. That’s all I wanted. If that’s all that had happened, I would have been utterly satisfied. But that’s not all that happened.
These stories were also bound by theme.
If you’ve read “Wholeness,” then you’ve probably surmised that its theme is integrity (or at least you should have; I basically tell you as much in the last three paragraphs). While I was writing the end of the as-yet-unnamed fourth story of the collection, I realized that I inadvertently borrowed not only the theme of “Wholeness,” but the very imagery used to depict it: the integrated man, a whole person.
At first, I was a bit annoyed with myself. After all, I pride myself on my originality, and if something’s been done before, I furiously try to avoid using it in my stories (unless it fits so well that it would be a crime to forego using it). Theme and imagery were no exceptions. I had every intention of rewriting that scene when the story was done.
But after a while, I began to wonder if I should leave that scene alone. It did fit the story. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of my stories written so far touched on this theme of integrity, what it means to have it and what it means to betray it. So I decided to keep it, but I hadn’t yet realized why this was significant.
What is a theme, anyway? The best definition I’ve found is that a theme is the unifying idea of a story. One could say that the sum of a story’s parts, its identity, is the theme. If all of a story’s parts bound together demonstrate that theme, could one say that the story is truly unified, integrated… whole?
Now let’s talk about the magic system.
Magic, in the Fourth World (the world of The Clans and The Born Sword), primarily consists of the binding of essences. For example, a sorcerer can take the element of fire from his surroundings (limited by how much of it there is) and bind that fire into a focal point, which he can then manipulate. Or, he can steal the fire from the torch in your hand, turn it into a fireball, and then launch it back at you. This works for whatever “essence” that particular sorcerer can bind: light, metal, pain… anything. All he has to do is take the bits that are there and unify them into a whole.
Let me repeat that last phrase: unify them into a whole.
Did you notice how many times I used the word “bind” when talking about theme?
Yes, that’s right. I have integrated and bound the magic system and the theme, and that theme is integrity.
I am performing literary magic, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Just wait and see what I’m willing to do with it.
Writing is a tough gig, and sometimes a writer needs to be reminded of why he writes. Different people do it for different reasons. Some do it because they’re good at it, some because they can actually make money at it. Some do it because they don’t know how to do anything else. Some, though, do it for those moments of unfettered, unadulterated bliss when everything comes together.
Today, that last was me.