Writerly realizations

Does anyone else find themselves occasionally startled to discover they’ve been writing about something for years without realizing it?

A couple years ago, I was startled to realize that most of my short stories were about heritage, what we pass on and fail to pass on, from parent to child and from child to parent.

More recently, in a conversation with a friend, I realized that the projects I’ve been working on the past few years all have a strong thread of the importance of telling the truth. Not in a cliched way (I hope!), and not really in any one way at all–which is why I didn’t see that particular thematic thread at all until that discussion.

Tiernay West never talks about this directly (though if she did, she’d say something like “An adventurer always keeps her word”). But when her mother extracts a promise from her to not go out without parental permission, it never occurs to her to break this promise. (Circumventing it through technicalities, of course, is another matter entirely. :->)

In other works it’s much more direct (identifying information below mostly taken out, because I’m oddly self-conscious about giving details many details about works-in-progress):

“Tell me how my sister died.”
“The Duke. The Duke and his men.”
“Look at me and say that.”
She shivered as her eyes met his. “The Duke’s fault,” she said again. “And mine, too. And mine.” Her throat tightened around the words. “She was trying to save me. Because I was too stupid to save myself.”
“I am glad you have learned, at last, to speak truth.”
“God, I had no idea, when I met you. I had no idea what could happen.”
“So now you know.” His voice held no pity.

I thought she’d be happy, but she wasn’t. “Are you here because you like me? Or because your friends kicked you out?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, feeling awful.
She nodded, like I’d said the right thing. “At least you tell the truth. Rufferford would approve. Members of a secret club should always tell the truth.”

I wanted to tell him everything would be all right, but I knew I’d only be lying, and I never lied, not to escape a beating, not to offer comfort.

“Promise you won’t. Words have power, especially for people with magic. It’s like the oath, about doing no harm. You can’t say it if you don’t mean it. Promise you won’t hurt yourself again.”
I never said things I didn’t mean. My mother and father had both taught me that. So I didn’t make any promises. I didn’t say anything at all.

What’s kind of interesting to me is that I don’t seem to see telling the truth as a thing done out of kindness, or gentleness–it’s a harsh thing, more often than not. Yet one way or another it becomes necessary anyway, because of personal integrity, or because of the consequences of doing otherwise, or both.

The downside, of course, is that now that I know this, it will be much harder to make use of it. Because underlying thematic matters rarely seem to work when you put them there on purpose; they just need to happen, on their own.

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