A Theme of Dreams

I’ve been thinking a lot about themes, and their existence in novels, particularly the novels I’m trying to write. I read recently that themes cannot be planned, they must emerge. That you can only establish your theme after you finish the first draft.

As I talked about in Roses of Ash Deconstructed, the theme that emerged from ROA was resistance against secrecy for the intent to protect. I can’t stand it when someone keeps something from me because they think they’re protecting me. But I didn’t know I’d incorporated that into my novel until it was finished and editing it.

Now that I’m working on another project (which I briefly mention here), I’ve been thinking a lot about theme and what it might be for this book. I’ve also been reading a lot of MG in preparation of working on my own, and have been startled because it’s really just like YA, except pursuit of romance is replaced by pursuit of friendship and family. It’s taken me back to a more innocent time, where I was far more occupied with what I was doing and finding my place in the world than worrying about others and how they would influence me.

And now that the steampunk cinderella story is slowly coming together, I think the theme for it has already presented itself: the pursuit of your dreams even when everyone tells you that you can’t.

That you’re not allowed. That you’re the wrong age, or gender. That you come from the wrong family.

When I was growing up, there were things I was ‘supposed’ to do. Get a basketball scholarship. Get a 4.0. Go to college. Certain religious/social expectations. Get a career and make money. Have children.

Well, I don’t like sports. I did college for a while but having a typical experience wasn’t something that either worked out for me or was what I really wanted to do. I love kids, but they’re not for me at this point, perhaps ever. But worst of all, I didn’t want to get a ‘career’. I wanted to be a writer.

I was lucky. My family was supportive, but realistic. But I’ve had so many friends whose parents not only could not understand their dreams, but expressly forbade it. Wouldn’t let their children have friends. Wouldn’t let them have access to the internet. Wouldn’t let them go anywhere. Wouldn’t let them join extracurricular activities. It used to make me so mad and sad at the same time.

When you rip up your child’s sketchbooks, when you break their CDs, when you delete their accounts, when you make them transfer schools, and throw away things they’ve purchased, you kill your child’s spirit. You kill their dreams.

The main character of my steampunk retelling is a girl from a wealthy family who wants to be a Tinkerer. Her gender, age, and status make this nearly unthinkable. But she works in secret, sometimes taking on disguises and secret identities, just to be able to pursue her dream, despite her family trying to stop her at every turn. The secondary character is a boy from a high-status family who wants nothing more than to be a magician. He sneaks out and learns magic despite other Magicians pushing him away because of his age and the tattered Magician’s cloak he wears.

Internalizing the theme and remembering those feelings I had when I was a kid listening to my friends face the panic and depression of a life without the dreams they craved most, I feel compelled to write this story for future MG readers out there. Maybe for girls who want to grow up and enter ‘boy’ fields like science and math. Maybe for boys who want to abandon family tradition and pursue something silly, like magic, that makes them happy.

Mostly for anybody who ever had to hide their passion for fear of having it torn out of their hands.

7 thoughts on “A Theme of Dreams

  1. journeynorth says:

    What a fantastic post. :) I’m writing a novel right now with very similar charactes–the two of them in careers that are considered out of the norm for their gender and status, and finding that my main theme is slowly emerging from there.

    It’s funny that you mention maths and sciences as a boy thing; I suppose it is to an extent, though I’ve never thought of it as such. I’ve just thought of it it as a career path that is highly encouraged because it pays and, well, we live in an age where science is accepted by popular opinion as the Word. (Can you tell I’m not a huge fan? Haha. I don’t mean to discredit science, I just think it’s equally as valid as other world views. :p)

    • savannahjfoley says:

      Hmm, I’ve always heard math and science described as male-dominated fields… however, in recent years girls have been outperforming boys on math and science tests so maybe we’ll see a gender flip later on.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great post…sometimes in our hopes of helping others (especially in parent/child relationships) we do more harm. I respect the parents who say “you’ll never make money as a novelist, become an accountant instead” for their intentions, but at some point, a parent’s #1 job is to love, guide, support. Which means loving and supporting what you don’t think it the best choice sometimes!

    Can’t wait to hear more about steampunk Cinderella!

    • savannahjfoley says:

      I absolutely believe that when you’re raising kids, you’re raising them to be happy, well-rounded adults. Success is rated by life contentment, not the amount of money you make. But, I don’t have kids, so what do I know? :-)

      I can’t wait to tell you guys more about Steampunk Cinderella! Still need a little more brainstorming work first though…

  3. lalaith7 says:

    I don’t know if I can really leave any comment that would add any value to this wonderful post except that you should look up the “dignity of risk” re: Roses of Ask. It’s a concept that gets used in mental disability fields & such but applies to lots of things and is essentially about letting people have the opportunity to succeed but also to fail on their own merits. I’m probably explaining it very poorly but anyway, I think it’s related to your theme.

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