Worldbuilding Without Theme
My aliens reproduce asexually, so there is no need to discuss sex.” A writer posted proudly during a group discussion concerning sex in fiction. He continued elaborating his worldbuilding surrounding the asexual, blue aliens, peaking my curiosity, which sent me to Amazon to buy his book. The pages turned, revealing several generations after a nation-ending war, a loosely-unified, militaristic, corporate oligopoly rules the polluted planet sprawled with cities. A lone, space-mining surveyor described the dystopian earth in casual muses while orbiting an uncharted planet. Amidst his desire to have a home and family sharing Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham, the computer blares a malfunction alert ending his Hallmark moment as the ship spirals to the sphere’s surface. Injured badly, the pilot awakens to discover an asexual, blue alien girl pulled him from the wreckage. Different than the other blue, asexual aliens, who don’t reveal themselves, she cares for the injured pilot. They forge a relationship that soon transcends their species’ differences, and though the girl asexually reproduces, the two marry, have kids, celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family, but not before the alien girl saves the earth from total annihilation.
Perhaps my imagination is too limited to entertain a strange world where the United States no longer exists, yet people still celebrate Thanksgiving. Stretching imagination a bit gives credibility to these details, but any hope of believability dies after the protagonist begins his romance with the asexual, blue alien. Sadly, this problem has occurred many times during my reading, filling my Kindle with derivative books, making apparent the importance of a story’s theme that will self-construct if not given consideration.
I hate the term “worldbuilding” for expanding “story setting” into a practice eclipsing other narrative elements. Exemplified by the asexual, blue alien girl, the author’s painstaking description of a world comes at the cost of making sense and, worse yet, reading enjoyment. While the contradiction of the asexual girl and the anachronistic elements like celebrating meaningless outdated holidays might seem obvious, these occurrences steep in a lack of theme understanding.
The asexual blue alien spawns from the overused savior archetype, contrived thoughtlessly with no theme. Unlike the other blue aliens, holding different beliefs about humans, she is ostracized for lack of suspiciously-human comeliness, kindness, altruism, and empathy. She rises above the persecution as a friend to humanity.
Unsurprisingly, in a book containing no sex, no cursing, no lack of prayer, and ends with the asexual blue alien and the human creating a family and living happily ever after, the author turns out to be Christian. The Christian worldview permeates the story, yet the alien and the human worlds detail so elaborately that readers can almost touch the fauna and become lost in massive cities. Such a worldbuilding effort negates any intention to write a derivative theme, despite the obvious glaring issues.
Despise for the savior archetype does not blind me to the theme’s success. Countless books and movies continue to use this character type, revealing successful story does not mandate originality. This proven theme further questions how this author wrote the sexless, blue alien girl story with glaring errors while elaborately worldbuilding. How does an author articulate with such detail a political, cultural, a physical landscape with obvious anachronisms that contradict the construct? Contrarian storytelling often occurs in authors who write disregarding or ignoring the theme.
There is worldbuilding; then there is theme.
Our asexual, blue, female alien’s author didn’t write a savior archetype deliberately, evidenced by the unignorable contradictions, and instead forged a world without consideration for the theme. All the anachronisms and antinomy result from the author’s Christian worldview clashing with his worldbuilding. Unconsciously, or with some awareness, he created a character void of things offensive to Christians, such as cursing and sexual depictions while praising holidays, all unsupported by the setting. No one in their right mind would expect characters to celebrate Thanksgiving in an authoritarian, futuristic world where America no longer exists since it is a US holiday. The abundance of these demonstrable issues proves either theme ignorance or disregard as “love your neighbor as yourself” and “faith without works,” along with many other Christian themes manifest in the dystopian worldbuilding.
Not isolated to a particular culture or religion, the lack of theme consideration allows worldbuilding to embody the author’s worldview. This hazard elucidates the inextricable nature of the theme and story.
The Inextricable Theme
The human mind runs on autopilot often, making routine many, sometimes-complex behaviors automatic to allow thought about other things. We experience the phenomenon daily in effortless tasks like the drive home from work made unmemorable for not needing concentration. However, when chores like stopping at the store need to interrupt this routine, we forget because the mind’s autopilot does not account for this task. Autopilot disruptions happen all the time, but on rare occasions, the return to routine can have dire consequences, such as children being forgotten in cars, showing how disruptions to routine can lead to mistakes.
Telling stories or relating events are routine behaviors seen in the ability to talk while performing a task such as driving. The brain accomplishes this feat because, from an early age, we learn storytelling and its nuances. People tell stories all the time, so plot, character, and theme (or purpose) become intuitive; however, storytelling and writing a story are not the same. People tell stories, and the purpose or theme is inherent in the moment’s context, such as telling someone about a strange situation at work. No need arises for worldbuilding or theme since the person understands the context and the storyteller.
Oppositely, writing a story necessitates these narrative elements to immerse the reader, with importance on theme to give the story purpose. Lacking theme’s understanding, the author’s mind draws on experience and creates a theme, often derivatively, since no effort goes to the narrative’s purpose. If you do not understand theme and you are a Satanist, your stories will embed with this worldview the same as Christians scribing their perspective.
The theme is as intrinsic to the story as the plot or character.
Theme’s vital nature provides much wisdom, dispelling many myths for new writers. The belief that some people have natural writing skill falsifies in the necessity to understand theme since a story lacking this component becomes prone to incongruencies and contradictions. Likewise, the myth claiming writing is the same as telling a story holds little truth since writing demands more elements to contextualize the anecdote. The more awareness and knowledge a writer gains from reading and study, the more effectively and intuitively her mind manipulates narrative elements, most notably theme.
Concentrating efforts on worldbuilding is for naught if the more important theme goes ignored.
Every writer has methods for finding a theme, with outlining and freewriting cited most. Pansters seem to let the theme occur naturally, but likelier they settle on a purpose while scribing. Whatever the process, authors should, at some point, discover a theme and mold the story accordingly to avoid the asexual, female, blue alien married to a human man, both saying grace before Thanksgiving dinner with their children in a cyberpunk, corporate-run world.