This week we learnt about the importance of theme, genre and tone, as well as the differences between each of them.
the subject of a talk, piece of writing, exhibition, etc.; a topic.
“the theme of the sermon was reverence”
an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.
“love and honour are the pivotal themes of the Hornblower books”
Every story conveys a message and its subject matter is referred to as the ‘theme’ – a story about justice, a story about water or a story about fear. More complicated themes may be ‘ends justifies the means’ or the concept of a perfect world.
a style or category of art, music, or literature.
“the spy thriller is a very masculine genre”
Genre is the category in which that story fits into, which is determined by the conventions and tropes it uses. The crime genre, for example, typically involves murder, a rogue detective and/or a mansion. There are also particular stories that deconstruct genres, breaking down their tropes and outright questioning them.
the general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.
“trust her to lower the tone of the conversation”
Tone is the emotion and atmosphere displayed in the story. Dark, light, serious – all of these are examples of tone, which all relies on word choice and syntax. The tone has an effect on the reader and sets the mood.
All of these are combined in various ways to create unique stories. A dark crime story about betrayal and its after-effects. A light-hearted fantasy story about economics. A serious mystery story about the ‘ideal world’. Theme, genre and tone are crucially important in any piece of writing.
An example of theme can be found in the visual novel Steins;Gate.
[Kurisu]: “Five hour future me said the chronology protection conjecture holds, but I think it’s slightly different. That conjecture denies the possibility of time travel from quantum theory because of the danger of disrupting the law of cause and effect. But in the case of time leaping, no time paradoxes occur in the first place.”
Two of me don’t exist at the same time. I cant bring anything with me to the past, either. The only change is the memories stored in my temporal lobe. At the very least, time leaping can’t cause a Grandfather Paradox.
[Okabe]: “It’s the will of the world after all. It’s as if the universe itself is censoring me, correcting any changes I try to make.”
[Kurisu]: “Then that means time leaping can’t save Mayuri. Anything you do will be fixed.”
[Okabe]: “…I can’t accept that.”
To continue the example, this is an extract from later on in the conversation.
[Kurisu]: “Maybe the cause of Mayuri’s death isn’t getting shot by Kiryuu Moeka, but something more macro. Maybe ‘because we made a time machine’, or possibly ‘because SERN found out we hacked them’. As a result, Mayuri dies. If you think like that, cause and effect aren’t warped.”
[Okabe]: “Can that explain how she got run over when Nae pushed her onto the train tracks?”
[Kurisu]: “Ah, I see… hmm… but the law of cause and effect is absolute. Deny that, and you deny all of physics. So, there must be a cause for Mayuri’s certain death.”
[Okabe]: “If we find out that cause, then maybe we can do something…”
Steins;Gate (5pb. / Nitroplus, 2009)
Overall, the theme of Steins;Gate is time travel. It explores concepts such as the Grandfather Paradox, cause & effect and paradoxes, as seen in the extracts. While not directly shown in the examples, the story also examines John Titor, the butterfly effect and the many worlds interpretation. As such, Steins;Gate is a perfect example of a strong theme that is consistent (and is the foundation) throughout the story.
For genre, an example can be found in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.
[Monobear]: “Bingo! It’s not enough to just kill someone. You have to actually get away from it! Which naturally means you need a system in place to assess whether or not it’s been gotten away with!”
[Monobear]: “So, a certain amount of time after a murder has taken place, a class trial will begin!”
[Monobear]: “Yup! It’ll begin a few hours after the murder! Everyone will gather together, including the blackened who committed the murder. And they and the spotless students will all engage in one big debate showdown!”
[Monobear]: “During the trial, you’ll have to present your arguments about who you think the blackened is. And once everything comes to an end, the outcome will be decided by popular vote!”
[Monobear]: “If the answer you’ve arrived at is correct…”
[Monobear]: “…only the one that disturbed your peace will be punished. The rest may continue their communal life.”
[Monobear]: “However…if you choose poorly…”
[Monobear]: “…the the one who got away with murder will survive, and the rest of you will receive your punishment.”
[Monobear]: “Which of course means your school life will come to an end!”
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Spike, 2010)
This explanation tells us that Danganronpa’s genre is that of ‘murder mystery’. Like any other mystery, it is the protagonist’s (and everyone else’s) task to find out who the culprit is. This system occurs throughout the game’s 6 chapters, while the protagonist attempts to solve the story’s overarching mysteries.
An example of tone can be found in 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.
[Santa]: “How long are we gonna pussyfoot around like this?! We’ve only got 8 hours until this time limit Zero was going on about is up! Let’s get goin’ already! Go! Go!”
Santa’s outburst fell on deaf ears. No one seemed to agree with him. They stared back at him, their eyes blank and their faces tired.
Finally, Lotus spoke.
[Lotus]: “No. I refuse. I’m not going to end up like him.”
[Santa]: “…Him? You mean the 9th Man?”
[Lotus]: “Of course. Who else?”
In his mind’s eye, Junpei saw the corpse again.
The dark, reddish-black pool of blood…
The scattered pieces of flesh…
Organs strewn across the floor like the blossoming of a grotesque flower. The explosion that had torn through his body had been powerful. The 9th Man’s neck had been twisted at an odd angle. Junpei suspected the detonation had thrown him against the wall. Half of his face was crushed, and the other half was covered in blood.
Most of his abdomen had been emptied, either by the explosion, or by gravity. He had landed on his back, and stark white ribs jutted out of his chest, like the legs of some sort of macabre crab.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. (Chunsoft, 2009)
The graphic and detailed writing of a disfigured corpse shows quite clearly that 999 has a dark and serious tone to it. On top of that, with ‘their eyes blank and their faces tired’, it sets up a dreary and almost hopeless atmosphere.
For my own example of theme, genre and tone, this is an extract from a piece of work I did in class. Here, we had to write about a fear – be it fictional or non-fictional – and emphasize tone. While the piece below is only an extract, this link leads to the full piece.
I’m walking. I don’t know why I’m walking, but I am. The corridor I’m in is familiar to me, with marble white walls and a carpet floor. It’s my house and in it, I am the queen. Everything from my luscious red hair to the way I stroll with such ease conveys a sense of confidence and elegance. Lights hang from the ceiling, which I pass often. They’re…turned on.
So why can I only see darkness ahead of me? It did not click until just now, but the lights do nothing to clear this shadow. I can barely see.
Something is wrong. I stop abruptly and acknowledge the silence around me. This silence is comforting. But the darkness only draws closer. Or did it? Was it always within arm’s reach?
I continue, unsure of why I’m continuing to walk. My confidence is gone. Now, each step is with caution. And haste. I’m walking faster than usual. Were my footsteps always this loud? No, no they weren’t. They’re magnified. Each step feels like two. The carpet shouldn’t be making noise, but I can hear the footsteps so clearly. They’re echoing.
Is there someone beside me? The only other person in this house should be asleep. My head turns of it’s own accord – to the side, not behind – and sees only darkness. This void has grown closer. How am I still able to move? I could stumble into the abyss and I would have no warning, but still I push myself forward. My legs are moving on their own and I can’t stop.
From the beginning, I had the style in mind. I wanted to convey a sense of dark surrealism, as if everything is unreal and haunting. The story begins with confidence and a clear explanation, but it ends with an ellipses – ‘they’re…turned on.’ This is used as a pause – as if everything begins to slow down. Following that, I make heavy use of unanswered questions to alert the reader to what is not right. Everything becomes surreal, dark and without answers.
This fear is emphasized by the character’s inability to stop any of it. Her ‘confidence is gone’. She asks more and more questions – ‘were my footsteps always this loud?’, ‘or did it?’ and ‘is there someone beside me?’. All of this has a sense of approaching danger. The short sentences are blunt, but to emphasize detail. And, amidst all of this, the character cannot stop walking. She grows more and more aware of how forced her movement is. This gives the idea that there is no control and a feeling of helplessness.
Overall, I’m actually very happy with this piece. I was able to use word choice and syntax in order to create a dark atmosphere – which is a perfect example of tone.
For theme, we were given the task to create a short story with a clear theme in mind. But, adding onto this, we had to write it in two distinct forms. As this post is already long, the links to each piece are down below.
Now, as brief evaluation, I recognize that the task may not have been completed as envisioned. What I mean by this is that the two forms are both novel styles. If I were go back and do this again, I would have found a different form I was comfortable with and wrote it in that style. I’m not sure what form it would be – the story doesn’t suit a journalistic piece, nor do I feel confident in writing it in poetry, so I am unsure.
However, I believe I wrote the piece well.
- Chunsoft (2009) Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors [Computer game]. 5pb. Spike.
- 5pb. / Nitroplus (2009) Steins;Gate [Computer game]. 5pb.
- Spike (2010) Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc [Computer game]. Spike.