This week we will be discussing theme. It's a tricky topic to grasp, and even harder to implement in works. I would even dare say it's a quite mature storytelling technique. But I'm getting a head of myself-- like always: so what is it?
Isn't Theme just Genre? Um, no.
Genre is a topic worthy of its own article, but basically it is a collective of tropes; it's more than simply saying a western, or sci-fi film, each have a set of particular rules that must be acknowledged, even if broken-- or even fused. Joss Whedon's Firefly is the perfect example of blending two genres (western and sci-fi) together.
In contrast, theme is something as old as Ancient Greece, and comes back to that thing we always keep talking about: the heart of the story. Theme is the controlling idea that is-- or creates the basis for-- the emotional lesson learnt through the movie (Hero's Journey). It is often a moral argument, and something that explores part of the human condition, and that is why usually advanced writers try to take it on and rather find a theme to explore rather than just strict plot.
Hannibal (TV series) is a perfect example of a man vs himself story through the character Will Graham; and its theme explores the morality of killing. Are you allowed to accept your darkness? Is it okay if it's for the greater good? Are you allowed to enjoy it?
To create strong theme, you must first have a flawed character that you can explicit to explore that theme (Graham has complete empathy, a gift that is a doubled edge blade as he uses it to hunt serial killers); and the opponent must have a different view of the central moral problem (Hannibal wants corrupt Graham and have him accept his darkness vs Graham wanting a normal life).
Of course there is more (ALOT more) to the series than just this one theme; you're allowed to have more than one theme. Hell, you could say each character has their own! It's an intricate web, and that's why it is something so advanced; and something I"m still learning to control.
Philip Parker curated a list in his book, The Creative Matrix, that helps outline most, if not all, of the possible themes: