Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Exploring Theme

Theme is not just for literary work.  Genre fiction and mass market novels can benefit from the extra layer of dimension that theme gives a novel.  We all have unique points of view, and our characters ought to as well.  Even if your work is purely genre or mass market, a theme can add substance to your writing.  Theme is the deeper meaning underneath the events of your story.

My work actually starts from a theme or concept and bubbles out from there, but perhaps there is a theme buried within your work that you did not realize.  Prophecy's Promise is about how there is no true good side.  Another theme is that sometimes to save something we have to let it go.  The Lioness started from hearing a co-worker talk about his experiences as a Bosnian refugee living in Turkey.  I talk about war and genocide and honesty in relationships.

In both cases, I'm not trying to answer anything, but ask questions.  Is war ever okay?  Can you be truly in love if the other person doesn't know your past?

What is theme?
It's the overall message of the story.  I think Dean Koontz put it well when he said "Theme is a statement, or series of related observations, about some aspect of the human condition, interpreted from the unique viewpoint of the author."

Some examples of possible themes:
  • Ethical questions (death penalty, charity, honesty, etc)
  • Unrequited love
  • The importance of family
  • The importance of friends
  • Grief
  • War's impact

Why is theme important?
Even if you are writing something meant for enjoyment, you are still writing to communicate.  You are still expressing your thoughts and view points.  Theme is deeper than the events of your story.  It's what will keep your characters in your reader's thoughts.  It is also what can tie your characters and events more closely to your reader's life by giving your reader something to think about.

I would argue that a novel without a theme is small talk.  A novel with a theme is a conversation.  Theme adds substance to a novel.  And you may already have a theme without realizing it.  Readers will pull out themes from your writing, maybe even some that you did not intend, which is great. Your work is speaking to them.

Is there a deeper concept or theme that you are trying to convey in your current work?  Or even if you aren't trying to convey it, does one exist?

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