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So yesterday we spoke about the importance of having something to say if you want to sell a screenplay - in other words, creating a compelling theme.
Most people agree that it's important to enrich your work with a theme.
But most people, I've found, also misunderstand exactly what a theme is.
When I'm giving someone screenplay coverage and ask them what the theme of their spec is, they often say things like, "Well, there are themes of politics in there, and sexism, and divorce, and poverty, and..."
And while it's great that they have such a rich project, I'm always quick to point out, none of those things are a theme. They're motifs, they're story values, they're subject matter. But they're not theme.
A theme, put simply, is the way in which you view the world, dramatized through the Crisis Decision your protagonist makes at the Story Climax and the result of his Climactic Action.
For example, when Rick puts Ilsa on the plane and walks into the sunrise with Reneau, the theme of CASABLANCA might be said to be, "We can have both a rich inner life and a rich outer life, if we choose love over romance." In other words, when we choose real love.
That's why Rick says, "We'll always have Paris." He's not choosing the greater good over love; he's choosing BOTH his love for Ilsa AND the ability to serve the world. He's evolved, into something both greater than the freedom fighter he was in Spain and the head-over-heels schoolboy he was in Paris. He's a new, far greater man.
With STAR WARS? "We can become the heroes we are meant to be only when we trust absolutely in the universal life force that encompasses us all."
A couple more examples, just for fun.
CITIZEN KANE: "A man who tries to force everyone to love him will die alone."
SCREAM: "We will be free from our haunting past only when we tell ourselves the truth about it."
GHOSTBUSTERS: "Only through self-sacrifice and love do we find happiness and true success."
TEEN WOLF: "Only when we believe in ourselves can we become who we are meant to be. And bite beer cans and win basketball games."
Okay, that last one was a joke.
But I hope you get what I'm saying.
Like I said yesterday, you should never have your characters come out and pontificate on What It's All About (like they do in, say, TEEN WOLF): Your story should tell us what you're trying to say.
And if you can do that, and leave us with a message we'd never before considered, you're well on your way to selling your screenplay.
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