Que the Theme Music

I have long been fascinated with chance verses destiny. A person bends to tie their shoe which delays them long enough to miss the very train that’s involved in a fatal crash. I wrote a book based on the premiss that the protagonist’s life is thrown into tailspin all because he oversleeps. Arriving very late to work, he misses an important meeting.  On the way in he finds a $50 bill on the street, gets into an argument with his boss once there, goes out to air his head after the confrontation and buys a lottery ticket to break the $50 bill, finds out that he has won the jackpot that night but can’t find the ticket, tears his house apart looking for the ticket, misses the rescheduled important meeting the next day, gets fired from his job, goes dumpster diving (still looking for his ticket), finds himself locked out of his car and gets thrown in jail when caught attempting to break into his own vehicle. All of this happens within 24 hours. The string of events was simply triggered by a storm that knocked out power.

Chance meetings and insignificant events that have significant consequences are an intriguing theme. A phone number or email address innocently left in a library book makes it’s way into a stranger’s hands.  A woman varies her routine by going to an unfamiliar diner and meets the man of her dreams. A plane reservation is altered on September 10, 2001. Will pausing for those 90 extra seconds to answer the phone before running out the door change one’s life, nudging them in a different direction or splitting them off on a separate tangent? Do we have control over the direction of our lives by altering the littlest thing?

Can the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world really grow into a typhoon on the other side of the world? Is life a constantly shifting series of choices and consequences, or is every action and reaction predetermined—an entire life set in stone at birth? Will a life be drastically different if one turns left instead of right or was that individual always destined to turn left? That is one of my pet themes.

Another theme that rarely fails to suck me in is the idea of the ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances.  When I was a teenager I read Tolkein’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Those are classic quest narratives but in both instances they are tales that take an innocent unassuming hobbit and place him in world altering circumstances. Another book that nurtured my love for the “ordinary meets extraordinary” theme was Robert Ludlum’s 1972 book called the Osterman Weekend. In it, newscaster John Tanner is asked by the CIA to help them identify Omega agents believed to be part of a group of friends who are scheduled to come together with Tanner for a weekend.  This embroils him a series of risks and double-crosses and challenges everything he thinks he knows about his friends. Without any training he has to use his wits to save himself and his country. It was the four Tolkein works and the early Ludlum thriller that helped to firmly capture my hunger for similar stories that throw an “everyman” into situations that would test anyone.

For Christmas I got Stephen King’s 11-22-63.  This book captures everything that I love in a book. It is a quest of an ordinary man who has an opportunity to change destiny and along the way faces extraordinary circumstances.  He quickly finds out that every action has consequences, many of which may be unintended.  Jake Epping is convinced by a dying man that he needs to go back in time (through a discovered portal or “rabbit hole” that allows him to pass back and forth between the past and present) to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. Every time he goes through the portal from the present, it is September 9, 1958 at 11:59 a.m. on the other side.  Every time he steps into the past via the portal it is like pushing a reset button and anything done on previous visits is erased.  It is an interesting premise and is one that richly delivers.  I do have to say that the middle of the 880-page work drags in sections but overall is a riveting read.

So “chance versus destiny” and “ordinary meets extraordinary” are two of my pet themes to read and write about.  What floats your boat?  What type of theme captures your attention? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


6 comments on “Que the Theme Music

  1. I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic themes, but ones that take the time to explain HOW the transition happened. So World War Z by Max Brooks is a favorite and The Passage by Justin Cronin fits the bill to a lesser extent. Also uber-strong manly men in the James Bond vein like the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child (although the casting of the dwarf Tom Cruise for the upcoming film will ruin my visualization forever) and a guilty pleasure of Dirk Pitt in the Clive Cussler novels (who in my eye has turned into the laziest of all writers by the sheer amount of co-writers for his novels).

    • We’ve had this discussion and I agree that finding out how the world degenerated into its post-apocalyptic state would be fascinating and that writers who don’t tackle that are ripe for accusations of laziness. In the realm of guilty pleasure, I too went through a period where I read about 4 or 5 of Cussler’s almost comic book-esque Dirk Pitt novels. I haven’t picked one up in over a decade though. Every once in a while I see his latest and think, those were fun, I aught to pick one up but then I move on…

  2. I am fascinated by the concept of an ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstance. Will he rise to the occasion or will he fail? What choices will he make along the way. Will he lose his chance to become a hero or rise above the consequences and fly to the moon without enough fuel to come back.

    • I agree. I think we can more easily connect with an ordinary character and we put ourselves in the protagonist’s place and think about how we would handle the situations that he/she has been placed. That is probably why it is a successful theme.

  3. I got 11-22-63 but I haven’t started it yet… the length is quite frightening :p

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