Weekly Updates:

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  • Welcome back! Hope you got some rest.
  • I didn't say it at the end of the lesson video, but a reminder that the assignment is due Sunday, November 22, 2020 at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).
  • Tai mentioned someone setting up a Slack/Discord after semester channel. I'd like to hear your thoughts.

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  • You may or may not have already started to implement theme into your scripts.
  • It embeds itself into the structure and storyline, through the actions, dialogue, and images or sounds of your script.
  • Never worry or force theme. It will happen naturally, whether you choose it or not.
  • Theme should be developed alongside plot and character.

What is theme?

Theme is a statement that attempts to express a universal notion, feeling, or affirmation. Be careful not to approach it simply as a topic, but be aware that it includes some form of an opinion or statement.

Whether you like it or not, topics will naturally attach itself to an opinion or statement, so you are making statements whether you are trying to or not.

Writer Chuck Wendig calls theme your "FEELINGS and OPINIONS...[the] hidden arguments going on behind the walls of the story...Every story is an argument."

Theme often reveals choice:

  1. The choices you make for your story reflect these beliefs and opinions.
  2. And the choices your characters take reflect the theme...especially their final ones.

Shape your theme

So when thinking about thematic arguments, approach them in a similar that you'd approach a thesis for an essay.

  1. What is the topic?
  2. Assert something about that topic.

Think about the thematic argument as:

(Topic) is (value) because (cause).

For example: Crime doesn’t pay because justice prevails.

Tactics to approach theme

  • Thesis/Antithesis (+ / - values)
  • Injecting patterns of essay development into a script
  • Character storylines
  • Alternative story structures

We'll also explore imagery, symbolism, and motif.

But as we approach this, remember:

  • Show. Don’t tell.
  • Be sure to be balanced, and not biased.

Show theme through + / - values

This is the simplest form of an argument by moving back and forth between points of positive and negative values.

For example:

  1. Crime pays because it’s easy to steal.
  2. Crime doesn’t pay because the cops will find you.
  3. Crime pays as long as you are willing to do whatever it takes.
  4. Crime doesn’t pay because cops are willing to be corrupt to catch you.

Notice how you can see both story structure as well as escalation of action.


WOARO is the reason why theme appears whether you try or not. You eventually make value judgments. Being aware of it helps you shape your argument.

This is your number one tool for considering this dynamic. Just as an argument is about weighing both sides, WOARO visualizes the struggle of a theme.

Topic = Want and Obstacle:

Inner and Outer Wants: power, money, happiness
Inner and Outer Obstacles: prejudice, grief, depression

+ / - values = Action and Responses:

This your pathway, moving back and forth across the +/- values. . (Crime vs. law-abiding). These actions can be either physical or dialogue.  

Dialogue can express theme, but remember it’s better to show the struggle of theme, than to tell us outright.

Final value/cause = Outcomes:

These define your final ruling on theme. Does your character find happiness or are they doomed to suffer? How do they overcome grief? Or maybe crime does not pay because the cops are corrupt.

Other Patterns of Development

  • Increasing importance - could be attached to raising the stakes (which is increasing the likelihood of a negative outcome)
  • Increasing complexity - showing the intricacy of a complex topic
  • Illustration or support - showing all aspects
  • Division and classification - break the problem into pieces
  • Comparison and Contrast - the positives and negatives of two things (through action)
  • Analogy - comparison to another thing
  • Cause-and-effect analysis - a breakdown of cause and effect
  • Process analysis - how is a thing made

Character Storylines as theme

Create multiple storylines, each juxtaposing on different aspects of the theme.

Each character can be a reflection of that theme, considering different aspects, which can then be played against each other to reveal meaning.

Alternative Story Structures

Different story structures can be used to consider theme or be a representation of the theme:

  • Causality vs. Coincidence
  • Active vs. Passive protagonists
  • Linear vs. Non-linear time
  • Closed vs. Open endings
  • Consistent vs. Inconsistent reality
  • Change vs. Stasis

How to Actually Build Theme

The final question is: How do I actually do it? The two main approaches are:

  1. Write the story and then unpack the theme afterwards. What do you think your story is saying? And then how can you refine it to draw out those elements further?
  2. Begin with a theme that interests you and build it out? For example: If it is jealousy, then consider it as an obstacle (or want) and then figure out where do you want to end up (outcome and final value judgement).

Important: always refine the draft afterward to draw out the theme as best as possible. Look for ways to consider further.

Also, when working with either option, be sure to dig a little bit. Use the method of "five whys" to continually unpack the meaning of your story.

For example, in The Silence of the Lambs, the story is about Clarice Starling getting help from Hannibal Lector to catch Buffalo Bill—it doesn't seem like theme is present. But within the story, Clarice is constantly dealing with gender politics in a field dominated by men (this is very apparent in the film).

Once you uncover this idea, the interactions between her and Hannibal have more meaning. In their first meeting, he tries to break her by attacking her on this front, but when she withstands it, he begins to respect and help her.

Imagery, Symbols, and Motifs

Imagery can add depth to your writing, but they can't carry theme on their own.

Objects, gestures, and sounds can act as symbols that represent or signify ideas, characters, or relationships. Again, they cannot carry theme alone butact as reflections of that theme.

Motifs are the reoccurring or repeated elements throughout a story. They can be through images and sound, but also structural components, language, and other parts of the script.

And of course, much of this may be added by your crew and cast.

Final thoughts:

Show theme through:

  • Thesis/Antithesis
  • Structure and Storylines
  • Image or Sound

But remember that theme comes naturally through the choices you make.

Lastly, don't lose your theme in the editing. As you are working on your writing, sometimes story choices will remove elements of your theme. Be constantly aware as you do the work.

Film 210 - Week 11 Exercise - Theme

Write a 2-3 page script of any type, that considers theme through one aspect of WOARO. Be conscious of the thematic argument (the topic, value, and cause) that you are making within your script.

You are not allowed to use alternative story structure for this exercise.

Marking Criteria:

  • Does it achieve the purpose of this week’s assignment?
  • Proper screenplay format (including active, present tense; sluglines; character introductions), as well as spelling, punctuation, grammar (5 mistakes allowed per script).
  • Are all the elements of the story there? Does the story feel complete?
  • Proper page count of assignment.

Due: Sunday, November 22, 2020 at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).

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