I was reading a book earlier. Typical, I know, but it got me to think about something that I need to keep in mind for my own book. And maybe all of you, too.
Theme. It’s the underlying meaning, the lesson that the author wants the reader to learn from reading the story. It’s a huge thing and a lot of times, we don’t even pay attention to it when we start writing. We might have a vague idea of the theme of the book, but we get carried away with all of the other pieces of the puzzle. There are so many reasons that we write that sometimes we don’t really get into the technical details like theme.
What message do you want to send with this story? Why do you want to send this message? How are you going to do it?
I wasn’t thinking about the message I wanted send when I was writing thousands of words a day back in NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t even thinking about what my story was really about. But let’s face it: Even if we try to write a story that doesn’t have any kind of underlying meaning, we still give it an underlying meaning. It’s unintentional and unavoidable. Unconscious, even. Even if we don’t think we give it a meaning, we look back at it months later and realize that the whole thing is just one huge metaphor.
(I learn these things in Psych class. By the way, since I got good feedback on the posts about defense mechanisms in writing, I think I might be including a little more of psychology in my posts to help with writing.)
Let’s take theme one little step of a time. Right now I’m listening to music, so I’m going to use that as an example. A song, in four minutes or so, has a theme. Same with poetry. In such little words, a writer can pass on a huge message.
Then we take it another step and look at a short story. Even those have themes. And then we take another giant leap for mankind and we land on novels. Those have to be the hardest to incorporate theme in. You have to write a lot and all of it has to point to that one message.
It’s so weird how easy it looks to write a book until you try to write one. I mean, there are a whole lot of words that you have to write to do it… That sounds stupid but it’s true. It keeps taking me by surprise. And all of those words need to have a meaning that points to something.
Theme is like your thesis statement. Everything should come back to it.
Here’s the good part: You probably already have a theme somewhere in there and you just need to refine it. You know, make sure that your arrows are pointing right at it instead of in it’s general direction.
How do you figure out what this theme is?
First, take a look at the huge plot points that have to do with your main character. Look at what they are doing, how they change from the beginning of the book to the end, and then think about why they changed. You’re character learns something along the way, so there is a theme in there somewhere.
Next, look at your subplots. Your antagonist. Your obstacles and major conflict. Odds are, they are contributing to that common theme in some way. Find the connection. I would give you an example for this, but it would give away the central idea of my whole next book.
My challenge for you is to take a deeper look at the underlying meaning in your story. Look at all of the messages you are sending to the reader and then embrace them. Try and turn the story into something that really gets the message across instead of having some vague theme buried deep inside. That’s one of the big things behind the greatest stories: they have messages that leave you thinking about the story days or even weeks after you read it.
You want the readers to think about it for ages afterward. You want your story to affect them the way it affects you. Share that crazy we are holding back.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!