On Writing – Thematic Mapping

outline
Thematic Outline

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had (finally) come up with an idea to move forward with as my next idea. This presents the unique opportunity for this blog to follow my writing process from conception, through execution- whereas Beneath the Wood and Five Talents were both already in motion by the time I started this.

Yesterday, I mentioned having the premise for a story, and a premise is all well and good, it’s a leg to stand on, but what I also search for amidst the dozens of premises I make note of is one that can communicate a message or topic that I want to discuss. In this case, the premise I came upon yesterday is one that I feel can be used to discuss the fear and shock of learning that the people around you may be inclined to certain predispositions with regards to their perceptions of race, racism, and intolerance. It’s a topic I think is very timely given recent news, and it’s one that feels the right kind of “urgent” for me to address in a project.

I’ve talked at length about the right amount of planning, and what you see above is what I call a “thematic outline” and it’s something I undertake before I name/flesh out my main character (haven’t yet),  start identifying supporting cast (nope), or even come up with a title (big nope on that as well). The goal of the thematic outline is this: to lay out the themes, concepts and emotions of the story and my premise against and around the intended topic/message, and to begin discussing both where those emotions begin, how the premise can feed into and plot along those themes, and where to go from there.

I set out first to find what themes and meaning my premise has in relation to my message, and then balanced them against the “personal” meaning, goals and fears it could have for a protagonist, then what pursuing the investigation of the murder could mean for my protagonist in relation to those goals.

A plot arc naturally begins to form, a conflict and progression of the challenge posed both by the investigation of the murder itself and for my protagonist’s own personal goals begins to form. My goal is for the investigation of the murder, solving the crime to equate to a personal victory for my protagonist as well. So that their pursuit of the investigation is driven as much by principle as by personal needs/desires.

Along the way, themes and challenges begin to reveal themselves, perceptions that humans around them are bound to have, and the themes that started at the top of the page, bleed down and branch out like a tree into how they’ll be the medium from which the characters, my scenes and specific plot beats will be formed.

As I’ve noted before, I don’t like being overly specific in my outlining, but I do like to have a goal, and general sense of the route there. This outline is the first step in my process to plotting out the expanse of wilderness between me and the peak I’m pursuing. Next up: character mapping and major plot outlines to take the clay and start making the players.

One step at a time. We move forward.

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