When the movie CASABLANCA opens and engages us, Humphrey Bogart (Richard Blane) wants the girl from his past, one, and second, to keep himself out of World War II. Rick's hiding. He doesn't like Nazis, but he doesn't want to actively fight anymore.
So when the movie ends, when Humphrey and the police captain stroll into the airport fog, does Rick have what he wanted? Oh, hell no, you genre writers! He GAVE UP the freaking girl. She wanted him. He could have taken her back. The love of his freaking life. But no. It was better for the Nazi-fighters if she stayed with her husband. And that's the second part, isn't it? He wanted to stay out of the war, but now, he's not only sacrificing love and happiness, he's marching off to physically fight Nazis again, too.
He's changed. He's become a better man. He's placed the whole world above his own little one. (TFA says in the newspaper business, editors used to call this kind of reporter a Crusader Rabbit. After Watergate, they called them boss.)
My point? Honestly, troops, I'm not one-hundred percent sure. I'm just a little nervous. Because frankly, when Rick gave up that babe (Ingrid, was it?) to go hold a machine-gun, I had to wonder about his sensibilities. Maybe his manhood. Theme maybe isn't what grabs me.
This Casablanca example of theme was the biggest thing TFA says he learned from his writers workshop with Dennis Lehane this past week. Plot is about what your protagonist WANTS. Theme should be woven into what he really NEEDS.
Mr. L or his fantastic assistant, Tom Bernardo, mentioned this Casablanca example during class, and it thumped TFA over the head. It's why he risked taking me to a literary writing conference. TFA said he might want to make the Austin Carr Mystery Series grow a bit. I didn't worry much before we went. I figured TFA was full of it. But this Casablanca thing scares me, dudes. I don't want to fight Nazis. You know what I mean. I want to stay single, chase redheads, outwit the bad guys, charm my way out of tight situations. Fun and thrills, right?
And now, TFA says he really loves this idea of theme, maybe writing stories so that I, Austin Carr, get what I really need.
This is a very frightening thought.