Monday, January 11, 2010

Writing Themes: Slicker than Slick by Susanne Lakin

Please welcome writer Susanne Lakin this Manuscript Monday. We'll be hearing from her often this month as she has a lot of great tools to share, as well as her success story later in the month.

Writing Themes: Slicker Than Slick

By Susanne Lakin

I’ve been exploring the topic of using universal themes in writing, and here's another movie just chock full of 'em. Not many comedy movies do such a brilliant job of juxtaposing humor with heavy issues, but City Slickers is a gem of an example. Half the time you don't know whether to laugh or cry--if you're paying attention.

There are two big themes happening in this movie. First, there‘s Mitch, Phil, and Ed and their midlife crises. They go off on adventures to offset the growing truth that they are not getting any younger. Mitch voices the problem when he says, "what if this is the best I'll ever look, the best I'll ever be, the best I'll ever do--and it's not very good?" The theme, then, is: how do we find true meaning and happiness in life--is it something we need to look for outside...or inside ourselves? Can true happiness be found, or do we just have to settle for a mediocre life and learn to live with it? This major theme is closely tied up with the second one, and by answering the latter, the former is solved.

The second theme is presented by Curly, the trail boss. He looks at Mitch and says, "do you want to know what the secret of happiness is?" Mitch says yes and Curly holds up his finger. "It's this," Curly says. "One thing." "What? Your finger?" Mitch says. Curly explains the secret of happiness is different for each person--you have to go figure what it is, but when you do, you'll know it--and you'll be happy.

It may sound trite and simple, but when the three friends run into real danger and have to make tough choices, they find that being true to who they are and what they believe in is what leads them to their "one thing." For Mitch, it's risking his life to save Norman, the calf, as he's swept downriver. Yet, it's bigger than that. Mitch is suffering from feeling unimportant, that his life is meaningless, makes no difference to anyone, doesn't matter. But when he saves Norman, his act mattered--maybe just to a cow, but the symbolism to Mitch is huge. He made a decision and gave it all he had because he believed it was the right thing to do. He wasn't standing on the sidelines anymore but engaging in life.

They all discovered, to their surprise, that happiness was in the last place they would ever imagine--inside them. Rather than look outside to find happiness, Mitch learns that he needed to change his attitude. "I'm just going to do everything better," he tells his wife when he gets home. There's a bit of Zen philosophy here--the collect water, chop wood realization that joy can be found in simple unimportant tasks, because even those kinds of tasks have value. This reminds me of the Scripture: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).

C. S. Lakin (Susanne Lakin) writes contemporary literary mysteries and allegorical fantasy. She is completing her ninth novel and has had four novels contracted in 2009 for publication. She considers herself somewhat schizophrenic, having two agents and two genres she works in, but it’s always an adventure! When not writing, she earns her living as a professional copy editor and writing coach, always in search of the perfect sentence. For more information about her upcoming books, click over to her Web site.