For the purposes of this meme, a story’s theme is an abstract idea about which any story might have been written and which happens to come through in this particular story’s plot. A theme doesn’t have to be emotional (”the sorrows of star-crossed love”); it could be concrete (”life among the Borg”). You should be able to say how the plot reflects the theme, but the plot itself should not show up in the theme.
I’m assuming most fanfic writers are like me - that they don’t start writing with a theme in mind, and perhaps never stop to think about what the theme of their story was. I usually start with some kind of interesting sci-fi situation, not even a full plot, and write the beginning before I know how things will turn out. This approach has generated several incomplete Voyager stories, and far more corpses of original stories. It had to go.
Now I’ve repented of my unstructured ways and in the future I plan to think about both a detailed plot and a theme before plunging head-first into a story. The first two tales to which I’m applying this new method are The Wrong Novel and (my rewrite of) Colony. I haven’t quite figured out what the theme is of Colony, though I have decided that the necessary subplot will involve Starfleet. Previously I had vague ideas about using the Borg, who we all know are the last refuge of hack Trek writers everywhere (but especially at Paramount).
Being stumped for the theme of Colony, I started thinking about some of my other stories and assigning them themes. This sport (which I originally thought to name “Let’s Play English Class”) can be applied to other people’s stories, too, but I’ll stick to a few of my more popular stories for the moment. I list the theme first, with a bit of how the plot brings it out. It’s all made up off the top of my head, just like I used to do in English class.
The Dance (Tunkai): “the quest for an ideal”
At first the crew believe they’re taking up a hobby for Seven’s sake, but Seven is incapable of treating anything that lightly (the ideal). Likewise, Chakotay’s anthropological interest in Tunkai becomes more than just a hobby (the quest), and turns him into the local authority on the matter. Tom gets involved because he does not want to lose B’Elanna to the ideal; he has no personal stake in the quest until he stumbles (pardon the pun) across another ideal which he finds equally threatening. At that point he resolves to undermine Tunkai, with mixed success.
At a couple of other turning points in the story, one early on and one at the climax, someone says “This is not our version of Tunkai.” These statements concern allegiance to the ideal, something which Seven and Chakotay are concerned to maintain, Tom to undermine, and the Captain to conceal because she has an overriding ideal in Starfleet protocol. The ideal is achieved for one hour at the climax, but because of its new nature (and Starfleet protocol) it cannot be reproduced. The conflict between Tom and the ideal is thus resolved.
The Museum: “the conflict between duty and mercy”
I was surprised when the idea of mercy came out in resolution, because there are very few cases in the series where mercy wins. In “Choose Life,” Chakotay talks Janeway out of her clear duty not to reproduce (making this the only light story in the series, and the least popular), but in “Mirror, Mirror,” Chakotay is as frustratingly duty-bound not to get involved with Janeway as she has been with him in the real timeline. “Home Front” and “Logic Dictates” are narrow escapes from the implacable human machinery (duty) of Section 31; in “Once More Unto the Breach,” Tuvok doesn’t escape it. “To Perish in that Howling Infinite,” “Ambassador,” “Mushroom Soup,” and “Your Wish is My Command” show Seven and various Maquis acting as they might have had they been more dutiful drones or terrorists, respectively.
“The Museum” is a series with a unifying subplot. The wild, dark, or in some cases (say, “Endgame”) ludicrous events of the timelines affect the “real” crew, so that Janeway feels them drifting apart from her. In most cases they feel simple survivor’s guilt because real life is already better (more merciful) than the alternatives seen, but Janeway and especially Tuvok, the only two serious advocates of duty, are influenced by their milder selves in the direction of mercy.
The Lamne’rau: “the offspring of scientific hubris”
I mean hubris in the sense of reckless passion rather than excessive pride (though Magnus has some of the latter, too). The Hansens are too curious for their own good, and their unhealthy interests are reflected in their daughter. They are carelessly ignorant of the true danger posed by the Collective, but the reader is not; this contrast, rather than the actual events of the story, makes for most of the chilling effect (or so people tell me). This story began as a simple fanfix of some bad stardates in Seven’s childhood, but the final result can be summed up by a line of hers from one of my filks: “He who seeks out the Borg the Borg find.”