Recurring themes

Hey all,

Today I wanted to shift us back to talking about writing, specifically in talking about recurring themes and elements.

One thing I really enjoy about following any creator over time is to see the iterations of their work. The best example I can think of to demonstrate this is George Miller’s Mad Max movie franchise. If you’ve seen them, you know that the first one, well, it’s not great. It mostly looks like they were filming in somebody’s backyard and the whole post-apocalyptic thing doesn’t really come through. But as you move on to the next one, you see Miller build on those fantastical elements a lot more, and by the time you get to Mad Max: Fury Road, you get the sense that he’s finally arrived at the destination of that original vision, that he’s finally managed to match what he had in his mind to what’s on the screen. Each time, he builds on the world, using more experience as well as increased budget and technological advances to bring to fruition things we saw just as seeds in the first film.

Another example, taking a slightly different approach, is Hayao Miyazaki, mastermind behind Studio Ghibli’s greatest hits. His iterations come more in the sense of themes, most notably in anti-military and environmentalist hues. Even some of his designs carry over from movie to movie, the same cannons in Castle in the Sky showing up on Howl’s castle in Howl’s Moving Castle.

Howls Moving Castle
Glad to see this old gem from college still has its uses. Copyright of Howl’s Moving Castle does not belong to me.

I could go on, but for the sake of brevity, I digress.

The thing I love most about this is how reflective it is of the creative process. For Miller, it’s a chance to see someone grow in the mastery of their craft, refining their vision over literal decades of time and effort to reach an (at least semi-)final goal. For Miyazaki, it’s a rehashing of concepts, looking at the same ideas over and over again through differing angles and lenses. Creatives grow by making art, after all, and it seems both of these heavy hitters are no exception.

As a fellow creator, it makes me hopeful. Seeing how both have grown or just being inspired by the quality of their art makes me want to keep pushing forward too.

It’s also a useful tool for self-reflection, and, once you’ve locked onto it, for marketing.

For example, there are a few wells I know I frequently draw on when crafting my own tales:

  1. Antagonistic partners
  2. Angry heroes
  3. Grace

Of the five books I’ve written, I think I have the first one in all five, the second one in three, and the last one in three. And that’s just to name a few of my watering holes.

But what does that knowledge mean both for me and the dreaded M word?

Well, for one thing, it shows me what I like. I love biting banter between two people forced to work together and the drama of an angry person forced to yield. I am indebted to the extent of my life to the One who showed grace to me, and am therefore in love with (and bewildered and confused and baffled by) that concept as well. Knowing that about myself is helpful because it shows me what kind of writer I am, what my readers and I can expect from the stories that I tell. If voice can be described in adjectives, well, I think it can also, to a certain degree, be defined by recurring elements or themes.

This is also important because it shows me what I want to understand. Like Miyazaki parsing out the consequences of man’s violence or N.D. Wilson’s constant quests against the forces of evil, recurring themes can show us what we are passionate to explore, what we as people want to show or puzzle out. Writers tend to camp out on these kinds of things, so it’s helpful to know what element of our world we’re trying to show or explore. Social justice? Race? Maybe just a good old-fashioned adventure? What do I want to share with my reader? What experience am I trying to build? Why? Asking myself these questions can make a huge difference not only in how I write, but how I promote it.

Which brings me to my last perk, which is that knowing what my recurring themes are helps me to know where I fit in the larger scheme of the writing world. If I know that romance or inner city crime aren’t the main focus of what I’m exploring, I don’t have to worry about trying to cram things like that in–or market to people who only want that kind of story. If I know friendships and family are more my bag, I can hone in on that. As I said, the kind of stories you write can be as much a part of your voice as the tone you use to write them, and therefore are a crucial part of what makes any one of us unique. And as we all know, knowing your niche is key to selling your work.


So, what about you? Do you have any recurring themes or elements in your work? Can you think of examples of other artists who do? How have you used them to focus your work, process, or marketing, and in what ways has that been helpful or not? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this (including a follow up to this post on the potential downsides of recurring themes), follow me here or on social media using the sidebar links.

Patience, gratitude, and belief

Hey friends,

In the hopes of not having too vague of a title, I’m going to refrain from titling this post my “summery summary” but, just so any of you who clicked into this know, that’s what it is. Get ready.

So, as I’ve mentioned on probably almost every post I’ve written this summer, it’s been a weird one. I’ve learned a lot, so I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of my greatest takeaways from the last few months.

Patience

It’s been a big year for a lot of the people around me in a lot of awesome ways. Engagements, new jobs, moving out/in…a lot of successes all around. And it’s been great. But it’s also been a summer with a lot of comparison for me, which is less great.

But I’m learning more and more how unhealthy it is for me to live in comparison, and how great it is to celebrate others’ successes instead. So I’ve been learning to be grateful and celebrate with them, and to be patient while I wait for my own dreams. I’m still working (mostly) hard, still chasing those dreams, and have a stronger belief than ever that they will come true, even if it’s going to take some time.

Gratitude

Going hand in hand with that, I’ve also been re-developing gratitude, both for the good things in my life and in the lives of others and for the lives of those people in general. My mom, with her steadfast love and support for me, my dad, who is my ever-nerd buddy and working hard himself, and the rest of my family and my dear friends who each see God in different and beautiful ways, who are doing amazing things, and are a constant source of inspiration. I’ve been so inspired by all of their hearts, by what they’re doing to change the world for good and for Jesus, and by how diligently and passionately they’re following their dreams. I have had so many beautiful, inspiring conversations with so many of them this summer and my heart swells to know them all. It makes my heart happy just to know them, let alone be their friends.

If you’re one of them, thank you for existing and for your constant love and support.

Belief

The main theme of one of my previous posts, one of the biggest areas I’ve been challenged in this summer is in what I believe, and more importantly, how that actively changes my life.

Ephesians talks about people who are “tossed about by the waves (4:14),” Hebrews about those with weak knees (12:12). I don’t want to be either. This summer, I have been so challenged to take hold of the promises Jesus has for me, and to remain steady even when my mind or emotions tell me it’s time to cave. So often in the past, I’ve felt like I was doing something wrong or didn’t have enough faith if I couldn’t hear God directly, if whatever I thought would confirm my path or walk wouldn’t happen. Now I feel like I’m in a season where Jesus is teaching me to hang tough, to be steady even in the midst of trial or weakness. And while I haven’t necessarily faced a ton of trials lately (and hope not to, thanks!), I do feel like I’ve been starting to dig in more, to hold more steadily to what I believe even when other signs or voices point to the opposite.

Now that fall is here, I feel like I’ve woken up a bit from my spiritual summer stupor. Fall is always a good time for change, and even though I haven’t always been on target this year, I feel like God has been and is leading me towards something bigger and better. With these three lessons and the inspiration that has come with them, I feel so much better equipped to tackle what lies ahead. I’ve taken more risks, tackled more challenges, and I can’t wait for more.

Thank you, Lord, for a fruitful summer, and for sticking with me in my wandering.


So, what accomplishments, lessons, or inspirations have you found this summer? What are you looking forward to in the fall? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content from me, please follow me here or on social media using the sidebar links!