The Thematic Hypothesis – January 28th, 2016

I’m taking a break from my pilot, from prepping and strategizing the rewrite, to tackle something that’s come up with a one-hour iZombie spec I’m trying to beat out.

BTW, Scott Myer’s Project Stacking is the best and all of you should be practitioners.

Back to the subject at hand. I was attempting to gather critical mass on this iZombie spec when I thought, “if my scripting is made easier by a strong outline, and a strong outline is made easier by a strong beat sheet, and a strong beat sheet is made easier by a strong concept, then wouldn’t a strong concept be made easier by a strong theme?”

And then my brain when BOOM!


Okay, I know someone is thinking, “if theme comes first then the writing gets preachy and didactic” and I’m going to explain how you can avoid that.

(For the record, let me state that I don’t claim to have answers. I’m just willing to keep trying things until I find something that works for me.)

The key to finding a drama-worthy theme that avoids pedagogical writing is to differentiate between General Themes, Moral Platitudes and Thematic Hypotheses.

Now, for some people, when asked “what’s your theme” they’ll answer “um, I dunno, love and friendship and family, but mostly love.” That, in my humble opinion, is a terrible answer. Yes, a work can have multiple themes but “love” is too broad. You can’t do anything of dramatic interest with just “love”. General Themes are worthless.

The next person might say, “my theme is ‘love thy neighbor’.” That is a Moral Platitude that can lead to overly simplified drama. It doesn’t engender conflict, which is the kindling for drama.

But what if I said, “tis better to have loved and loss then to have never loved at all”? That is what I’m going to call a Thematic Hypothesis. That is a potential argument. That can actually be the engine for a lot of great drama.

Imagine a two-hander, a couple destined to be together but they each have very different views on love. One believes that it is better to have loved and loss, so that person has loved and lost a lot. Maybe they’re addicted to intimacy, to the blush of new romance, but nothing sticks. They’re a serial monogamist.

Then, on the other side of this equation is a character that believes that it’s better to have never loved than to feel the sting of loss. They don’t do intimacy. They’re always dumping people the second things get too familiar because that’s the door to love which resides on the same street as rejection and heartbreak.

That is a hypothesis that two characters can argue, and test, and explore. That is a robust engine that can drive a series. As you write, you know that all characters, scenes, motivations must branch off that central thematic hypothesis. If you test everything you write against that hypothesis, your first draft will be very tight.

And that’s what I’m trying to do with my iZombie spec because I don’t have a lot of time to waste flailing about. This spec has gotta be great because this is the year I want to make one of the fellowships, so wish me luck.

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