New Video: Finding Your Theme
By Jacob Krueger
If you read a lot of screenwriting books, it’s easy start to think of theme as an intellectual tool: something that you apply to your writing in order to make decisions about what should be happening, what your character should be doing or saying or what message your audience should leave the movie believing. But theme actually comes from a much deeper place than that. It’s not something you apply on top of your writing, or a tool you use to control your writing. Rather it’s something that you discover through the process of writing: the deep rooted question you’re wrestling with on the subconscious level that drove you to write this screenplay in the first place.
Once you’ve discovered that theme, you can use it to guide and focus every aspect of your writing. But many writers never get to their real theme. Because the instincts that would have lead them there end up subverted by the well meaning advice of friends, family, inexperienced screenwriting teachers and well meaning producers, whose focus on formulaic fixes to the “problems” of your script often end up cutting you off from the themes that would truly have made it great.
Writing is a lot like therapy. Though you may think you know exactly what you’re writing about when you first start your project, most likely you’ll be surprised to discover how much deeper your writing goes once you’ve allowed yourself to follow your instincts.
In this new video, I discuss where themes come from, and ways to protect yourself from losing touch with yours.
Finding Your Theme
Here is the great news about theme: You cannot escape it. You cannot escape your theme.
There is something wrong with you. You want to be a writer. That means there’s something wrong with you.
I mean that in the most loving way possible.
There is something compelling you to spend a tremendous amount of time sweat and tears doing something that is very hard.
There is something driving you that is extraordinarily powerful. Because we all know this is not easy. We do it because we’re driven to it. We can’t stop it.
That thing that’s driving you is your theme.
You don’t need to know it consciously. Sometimes all you know when you first start out is that you want to write a movie.
Other times we do know it consciously. Some of us start a script saying “I’m curious about this.”
And if you keep pushing that theme further and further, then you will discover what’s lying underneath it: the true emotional need that’s driving you to write.
In fact there is only one way to escape your theme.
And that way is to listen to other people’s advice.
Because if you listen to other people’s advice as opposed to your instincts, then you’re building their theme instead of your theme.
The way you lose track of your theme is by going “oh my brilliant screenwriting professor said I should do this, so I’m going to do it even though it’s not my instinct.”
Or “Well, you know, I read Save The Cat! and it said I should have a cat fall out of a tree, so now I’m doing that…”
And then you end up losing your theme.
Because you’re no longer following your own impulses, you’re following someone else’s.