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Category: Discovery

Master Theme Reference

This is going to be a very short reference article for folks to see first-hand some of the Master Themes I’ve personally run in my writing over the years.

Master Theme is so absolutely critical to solid scripting and crafting genuine story, I’ve discussed it at length on the free site. I talk to it all the time here on S2S and in my writing books, but the crux of it can be found here;

One Theme to Rule Them All

More on Master Theme

Master Theme, Secondary Themes and Character Arcs

If you do nothing else as a writer, integrate a Master Theme. It is the foundation everything else builds upon.

Folks constantly over complicate the concept of the Master Theme; Master Theme is simply, your specific message to the reader.

Ok, on to the ones I’ve used over the years.

Oh, one more thing, just like illustrators often have their trademark styles, writers often write to similar Master Themes–well at least in their own work–when you freelance and work for other folks, you often have to write to the message they want to convey.

Anyway, while it’s great to be versatile, there’s nothing wrong with keeping to a wheelhouse. It’s almost like specializing in a genre.

If themes of political corruption float your boat, write about it!

If Master Themes of primal revenge fiction turn you on, do it!

Write your passion.

The unique details of every story give the story completely new life, despite how many times you’ve used the same or similar, Master Theme before. In fact, I think it’s pretty neat to see wildly different stories, from the same writer, running the same Master Theme… especially if they’re totally different genres.

Anyway, here’s my list;

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Robot Kids Outline

In my book on Story Discovery and Story Structure, “Storycraft for Comics,” I take a story from Concept, all the way through to Skeletal Outline, the first of the two-part outline method I teach.

Here is the completed second part or, Comprehensive Outline for that story.

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Defining Genre

Unless you were born and raised on a deserted island, you’ve been exposed to fiction your entire life and have an innate understanding of genre; the classification of fiction based on shared form, style and subject matter.

I’ve been working on a breakdown of genre conventions in the primary genres I work in. This article is going to expand on the essence of recognizing and defining genre for your work and serve as a prelude to that material.

Genre

If we traveled back in time to the creation of the first “story,” it would be void of genre. Even if it dealt with goblins, trolls, knights, dragons, wizards, and fantastic realms, it would not be classified as “fantasy.” It would simply be the story, as there would be no other pieces of fiction to compare it to.

Genre emerges only through the collective view of numerous works.

Through this collective view and categorization of fiction, genre gives rise to conventions and obligatory scenes; traditional, typical, and expected expressions. For this reason it’s important to recognize your genre(s); in order to satisfy readers by both delivering and subverting what is expected.

You can recognize genre before you write, using it as a guide in your discovery process, or, you can assess genre after you’ve written, using it as a guide in your editing process… either approach can be successful (though perhaps the most effective technique is to employ both).

 

The Parent Genre: Drama

To some extent all stories are a drama. That is to say, all (well-crafted) stories are more than a mere sequence of events, but a dramatization of those events, with specific narrative purpose.

Drama is the all encompassing genre, with the flexibility to contain and explore all human emotion.

Drama as a genre by itself is more serious in tone, focusing on character arc development and theme. Drama as a genre digs deep into the humanity behind the story.

Similarly, any genre of fiction can push more toward the dramatic, focusing more on character arc development and theme than the other elements that define its underlying genre.

While all fiction will have dramatic moments, don’t label your story the drama genre if the humanity and character interaction are overshadowed by other genre elements.

Because drama as a genre will so often be paired with other genres, clients often hear me refer to the stand alone drama work of fiction as the “straight drama.”

By moving from the general Drama to focus on a more specific emotion, the first base levels of genre begin to take shape. Notice that the emotion is the specific and guiding force here.

 

The Six Base Genres

Regardless of genre, all good fiction delivers a complete experience and expresses a wide range of human emotion. However, the base genres (as I refer to them) have a more intimate relationship with one specific emotion. I define the six base genres as follows;

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Outline Development

If you’re not running your writing with an outline, you’re either a genius talent or a lazy bastard… either way, I don’t like you.

You probably didn’t even bother to read my article Outline Basics. Shame, shame, shame, I know your name.

For the rest of us hard-working mortals, outlining is a critical step in the creative process. As I discuss in the above article (and Storycraft for Comics) outlines arrive first, in the simplified Skeletal form (basically a beat sheet) and second, in a more Comprehensive long form.

Since Skeletal outlines are fundamentally shorthand notes, there’s not too much to go over there as far as how you put down your details (the structural points themselves are the important part—different conversation)… but when you move into Comprehensive outlining… it’s crucial to work efficiently.

A cumbersome comprehensive outline, can quickly turn into an unwieldy document and make your life much more difficult than it should be.

To keep your Comp Outlines on point, keep the following categories of detail in mind:

  • Outline Level Details. (points that need further elaboration when scripted)
  • Script Level Details. (points that can be directly set into the final script)
  • Superfluous Details. (points that don’t appear in the script)
  • Backstory Details. (points that don’t appear directly in the script)

If you suffer from ADD and can’t continue to read, here’s the Cliffsnotes—use Script Level Details as little as possible and Superfluous details even less.

I’ll use “Robot Kids” the (deliberately badly titled) sample story and outline from Storycraft for Comics as an example.

In the skeletal outline for Robot Kids, I have the Inciting Decision structural point listed as simply “Molly saves Kai.”

For the purpose of a Skeletal Outline, no further detail is relevant to structuring the story. To understand the story, we don’t need to know how Molly does it… The key point (at that point in the creative process) is that we know the one main character saves the other. This is an Outline Level Detail (or more simply put, a basic concept beat).

Now when I build out the Skeletal Outline to the Comprehensive Outline, I might turn “Molly saves Kai” into:

“The cyborg cops capture Kai, restrain him and load him into a transport truck. Enroute to Central City, Molly intercepts the truck on her hover-cycle. Using her bionic gadgets and the help of Iblii, her mutant flying squirrel, she disables the truck and frees Kai. Together they flee into the toxic swamp where the cyborg cop pursuers refuse to give chase.”

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