Struggling with Theme? Write a Holiday Screenplay
It’s not always easy to pick out the theme in your script, or someone else’s script for that matter. What the story is about; that’s called theme. Some often confuse the concept of the story with the theme. What’s Star Wars about? “It’s about an orphan who learns he is the chosen one and must fight the forces of evil in a battle to save the world.” Okay, that’s a nice elevator pitch, but what’s it really about? It’s about trust. Luke learns he’s been fighting his father and must decide whom to trust, his family or the friends he’s only recently made, but have saved his life more than once. Every character in Star Wars must face the decision of whom to trust at one point or another. That’s the theme.
So if you’re struggling with determining exactly what the theme of your script should be, write a holiday film or television episode. It makes it much easier to incorporate your theme into the story. What are holidays about? Holidays are about family. They’re about… giving thanks for the things you have in your life. They’re about… being kind to those less fortunate than yourself. They’re about… acceptance of people for who they really are, not who you want them to be. That’s an easy thread to weave, right?
It doesn’t really matter the concept or genre, you can sew a holiday theme into the fabric of any story. Terrorists have taken over a high-rise office building and are holding the entire staff as hostages. Let’s make it during a Christmas party and the man who’s late meeting his wife at the party just happens to be a badass, hard-boiled detective from New York City. Everyone is familiar with Die Hard, but what’s the theme? Let’s think about that. Christmas is about family and how much we love them even though we don’t always agree with them. It’s about love and the lengths we might go to in order to preserve that love. John McClane puts his life on the line for love, the love of his estranged wife. Many other characters put their lives on the line for love as well. Holly Genero puts her life on the line for love when she realizes just how much she loves John. Harry Ellis puts his life on the line for love. It just happens to be a love of himself.
Let’s take it the other way, a guy loses his wallet and must trust a stranger in order make it home. It’s important that he arrives home by a certain time. What is that important time? Christmas! This one is a common thread with many Christmas films and the general theme is almost always helping those less fortunate. With Die Hard you’ve got an action film, with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles you’ve got comedy. Both have great holiday themes woven into the stories.
You’ll find once you’ve chosen a theme for your story your scenes will have more punch, they’ll tie into each other more seamlessly, and your story will become more solid. Writing a holiday-themed TV episode works in just the same way. Pick your theme and the story will pretty much write itself. Write a couple holiday-themed stories and you’ll find picking out the theme in yours will come much easier. Until next week, happy writing.