Today we’re continuing with my favorite topic–themes. Some writing teachers believe theme is either intrinsic in your story or it’s not, but I disagree. Theme is a deliberate element, and it can be a core of your story. And as I’ve stood on my soapbox and said earlier (with quite a bit of passion), you really need to plan these things out in advance. Don’t just jump into writing a novel when you get a cool plot idea or premise. Think for a while about the themes you may want to bring out that work in that story. After all, there has to be some reason you are writing it, and hopefully that reason comes from something in your heart. So bring it out.
Brainstorm for Inspiration
You can always come back into a novel you’ve already fashioned and develop the theme, adding little bits of thought and dialog along the way. But if you’re in the planning stage, all the better, for you can lay out your scenes with your theme in mind. I thought my book, Conundrum, would be about betrayal, for I planned it to be gruelingly filled with lies and treachery. But the moment I sat down to brainstorm this theme, I filled a whole page with this rambling instead: “Truth and lies. Searching for truth: it might not be found–is that okay? Truths differ from person to person. The need for truth differs from person to person. Sometimes it’s better NOT to search for truth–who gets hurt in the process? What if you can’t tell the truth from lies–does it matter? To whom? Do you have to get to the truth to find peace–or is there something more important? Does confessing truth bring more liberation than finding it? If you are truthful to yourself, does it matter if everyone you love lies? Or that your life is founded on a lie?
Tapping into Your Passion
Where’d all that come from? I really thought the theme of my book was something else. But when I let my passion infuse my planning, I came up with the bigger themes for the book. There are actually a few themes at work in Conundrum, as is the case with most of my novels; I like to complicate and enrich my stories as much as possible. I find exploring theme, when laying out a book, opens magical doors. Your subconscious comes to the forefront and may surprise you, as it did me. Theme seeps into character and plot and twists motives. Sure, there will be subthemes that play along, but when you know your theme and you feel its truth validated in your heart as you begin your story, you have your foundation.
I was reminded of Vida Winter as I plotted Conundrum, the old author character in The Thirteenth Tale. She had told lies her whole life, but needed to tell the truth before she died. It was her greatest feat of accomplishment–getting deep and honest with herself, a place that terrified her. Another book with a theme about truth and lies. A beautiful book.
This week, make a list of five of your favorite novels and then take some time to consider their themes. See if you can can identify more than one. Usually great stories have multiple themes, and although these lesser themes may not be so obvious or as essential to the story as the main theme, they add richness to the story overall. Be sure to share in the comments about the novels you’ve thought of and the themes within. Oh, and if you want to read Conundrum–even just the first chapter (you can preview it)–to see how a number of themes are introduced in the very first scene, you can get it here on Amazon.