Controlling Idea / Downsizing

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  • #2348
    Philippa East
    Participant

    On the podcast I am obsessed with (storygrid.com), they refer to a story’s theme as the “controlling idea”. I like this way of putting it, because a good theme helps you control the unwieldy beast that most (draft) stories are.

    A “controlling idea” might be something like “happiness comes through pursuing our true calling”, “money isn’t everything” or “love only comes when we risk our heart”

    When you know what the central point and message of your story is, it gives focus to your plot, characters, etc. Obviously it can take many drafts to drill down to the theme, but once it’s there we can see our story take shape.

    A brilliant demonstration of the importance of theme is the film “Downsizing” (starring Matt Damon). If you’ve watched it, you’ll know what I mean.

    It’s the most out-of-control film I’ve ever seen.

    #2350
    Daedalus
    Participant

    I like that way of putting it. Helpful.

    I haven’t seen ‘Downsizing’ but it sounds like a film that is a bit overloaded with ideas and ends up getting lost among them.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by Daedalus.
    #2382
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Exactly 🙂

    #2387
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    I’ve often wondered what I would say if I was asked about my theme, or controlling idea. I can think of several words, but not a single sentence that I could trot out, and that’s not good enough.

    I think it’s easier if you’re writing a specific genre. With genre-bending it becomes more difficult.

    Must give this some serious thought.

    #2388
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Maybe it’s something as simple (elegant) as “when desire burns too hot, it destroys”?

    I think mine is: “only when culpability is deeply acknowledged can true reconciliation occur.”

    #2389
    Philippa East
    Participant

    I’ve also come to realise that themes / controlling ideas are basically the reason why human beings have always told, written and read stories.

    We are all trying to understand how the world works and how best to live our lives within it.

    #2390
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Philippa,
    “when desire burns too hot, it destroys” is pretty close to the mark for Angal.
    “When obsession takes root, it destroys.” Hmm. Hmmmm.

    Stories: Also to control … as with one generation instilling fears into the next with stories of the dark and its unseen creatures.

    #2391
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Control or to warn?

    And I suppose that’s another thing…. we all choose the stories we want to hear!!

    #2394
    Daedalus
    Participant

    Sometimes definitely control! E.g. ‘Suffering a tyrant may be bad but tyrannicide leads to civil war, which is worse’ – see Plutarch via Shakespeare via this morning’s ‘In Our Time’ 😉

    As Orwell wrote ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past’ – and to my mind, the past = the historical narrative = the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

    But I think I am probably getting off topic!

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