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    Theme, Motif & Moral Premis
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    Senior Member PopcornFlix's Avatar
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    There are a number of posts here about "Theme."
    To make it easier to discuss, I suggest you adopt more precise language.

    "Theme" is used to mean many things by many people. I suggest the following:


    Premise: An abstract explanation of the plot, showing the results of a specific emotional condition.
    The Premise is a rough roadmap of what will happen in the story.
    example: "Fear leads to Death."

    Moral Premise: The philosophical POV illustrated by the narrative, usually phrased as the opposition of two emotional values.
    The Moral Premise shows the dilemma that will face the Protagonist, as well as the emotional values that will be explored by the supporting characters.
    example: "Money vs. Love."

    (Some people express Moral Premise as the Morale Lesson the Protagonist must learn. This would be expressed as "Choose Love over Money." A Protgonist who learns to choose Love over Money would be rewarded, and if he failed, he would be punished.)

    Motif: A value, emotion or behavior that will be explored from many aspects without judegement.
    A motif is a recurring idea that may not be central to the Protagonist's moral dilemma, but is related.
    example: "Power" in LOTR - explored and demonstrated, but not the philosophical center of the film.


    The first book to discuss the Moral Premise (though under a different name) was Egri. A more recent book that is useful is The Moral Premise by Williams


    Hope that helps.
    .: popcornFlix :.


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    #2
    Wish I were banned. Drew Ott's Avatar
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    I'm not sure if you have 'motif' correct. From wikipedia: "To distinguish between a motif and theme a general rule is that a theme is abstract and a motif is concrete." My understanding is that for your example of power in LOTR, that would actually be more of theme, while a motif might be the usage of loud horns or circles to represent power.
    "You'd better cure all those personal problems that might be holding back something you want to say." -John Cassavetes


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    #3
    Senior Member PopcornFlix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Ott View Post
    I'm not sure if you have 'motif' correct.
    There's really no "correct" here, only "useful."

    One of the problems of discussing the formal technique of screenwriting is that there is no standardized technique, and therefore no standardized nomenclature. Some folks can't even agree what comprises an "Act."
    Script gurus have been making up words for decades, primarily as a marketing tool.

    My motive was to make distinctions between these three concepts, which are each often described as "theme."

    Screenwriting is hard enough. When I see a bunch of aspiring writers struggling with such an ambiguity, I want to make it a little easier.

    "Theme" and "motif" have a murky relationship in literature. Also from wikip:

    Quote Originally Posted by wikipedia
    the distinction between the two terms (theme and motif) remains difficult to distinguish precisely. For instance, the term "thematic patterning" has been used to describe the way in which "recurrent thematic concepts" are patterned to produce meaning
    Call it "Betty Lou" for all I care. The important thing is to distinguish between an underlying idea that will be explored through several variations without judgement (what I called a motif) and a philosophical dilemma that is explored with strong consistent judgement (what I called a Moral Premise).


    And in answer to a previous question, I find that you can build a story quickly from a Moral Premise, or you can dream up a story and find its Moral Premise when you're done. Either way is fine.
    .: popcornFlix :.


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    Which is why in my post asking about theme in horror films, I gave the definition of theme that I wanted applied to my question/thread. I find 'theme' in writing to have several definitions among writers, makes for confusion unless one knows which definition of theme one is discussing. I have seen theme defined/use in terms of motifs, such as in Hitchcock's The Birds where one site discusses the theme in that film as birds. Other books/gurus (Michael Hauge) talk about theme as being 'a universal statement that helps us live better lives' (e.g. What goes around comes around. or, Love always wins over evil.). And then I see other writers use theme as a repeating but perhaps disjoined motif in the sense of a theme of e.g. 'rejection' where you see various forms of rejection through scenes of a movie (e.g. Cold Prey) about teens getting killed by a Michael Myers type nemesis whacking them left and right.

    Quote Originally Posted by PopcornFlix View Post
    There's really no "correct" here, only "useful."

    One of the problems of discussing the formal technique of screenwriting is that there is no standardized technique, and therefore no standardized nomenclature. Some folks can't even agree what comprises an "Act."
    Script gurus have been making up words for decades, primarily as a marketing tool.
    ....


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    #5
    Member LaForce's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Ott View Post
    My understanding is that for your example of power in LOTR, that would actually be more of theme, while a motif might be the usage of loud horns or circles to represent power.
    I agree completely. Especially in terms of usefulness.


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