Realising You Have Recurring Themes And Plot Devices In Your Writing

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Last year, I read an article in the Writers Victoria monthly magazine where a writer was digitising her back catalogue with the assistance of her daughter. It was only when her writing was considered as a whole that she realised a theme ran through many of her pieces: knives.

At the time of writing, she hadn’t realised it and she certainly didn’t have any particular fascination with sharp, pointy kitchenware. But unconsciously, or perhaps subconsciously, knives appeared with a reasonable consistency.

I read the article with interest but then put it aside, not realising that I was also a victim of a similar problem. I say “problem” because my recurring themes were much more obvious than just a simple object. And now that I’m aware of them, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t notice them sooner.

It’s not as dire as it sounds because most of the pieces that contain the recurrences that I’m about to tell you about haven’t been published yet, meaning there’s still time to review them and rewrite them so that they don’t all read like variations on a theme.

Dead Parents
For some reason, many of my main characters have dead parents. Not both parents, just one. And not dead in a way that torments the main character, just dead as a natural part of the life cycle.

I can’t think of a good reason why. I have four parents (mother, father, stepmother and stepfather) all very much alive and kicking, so it’s not me subconsciously infusing the plots with elements of my own dead parents’ issues.

Comas or Extended Periods of Unconsciousness
Maybe it’s just that I like subjecting my characters to car accidents and shootings and druggings but, as a result, many of them end up in comas or being unconscious for an extended period while their bodies and brains recover.

I’m actually already planning another novel with a coma, a speculative fiction piece in which a woman is bashed and wakes up nearly twenty years later to discover that the world she remembers has been radically changed as a direct result of what happened to her.

Identical Twin Sisters
This is my main recurring plot device. I’ve written or partially written or started writing three separate novels from three separate series with identical twin sisters as a plot device. One of the novels is complete, one of the novels is half complete and the other will never be complete (as I stopped writing it four years ago and haven’t thought about it since).

Identical twins offer lots of opportunity for mistaken identity, although in only one of the abovementioned novels is that the writing road I took. More often in my writing, I use them as a way of exploring identity.

Now that I’m aware of what I’m doing, I’m planning to remove the twin element from my half-completed novel. It wasn’t a main plot device in that story. In fact, it was only going to be mentioned at the end of the novel to wrap up everything neatly so it isn’t crucial. Which makes me wonder why I chose to do it in the first place.

I’m not a twin but my star sign is Gemini, the twins of the astrological universe. I’ve never given much credence to personalities being determined by the day and month in which people were born. Perhaps I’ll have to reconsider it.

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I suppose it’s only in retrospect and collectively that my constant use of these plot devices seems like the same thing over and over. But now that I’m aware of it, it makes me wonder: am I just writing the same thing over and over?

I don’t think so. But it has certainly made me think and it has certainly made me want to stop using the same or similar devices. I suppose I’ll only know if I’ve been successful when I review my writing as a collective ten years from now. Stay tuned, I guess.

Check out my Friday blog post, the first (and only) five chapters of The Monroe Doctrine, an identical twin sisters novel I started writing several years ago. I’ve pretty much abandoned this story to focus on several others and I don’t know where the story was heading but it’s a pretty good example of exactly what I’ve been talking about.

*First published in Project December: A Book about Writing

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