Saturday, May 31, 2008

Running with…

Admit it! You thought I was going to say scissors, didn’t you?

THEMES – let’s talk about them for a moment. What “theme" runs throughout your work. People would ask me that question and I’d give them the old wide-eyed blank stare. You mean on top of Goals, Motivation and Conflict, I have to have a THEME? Criminy, can’t I just write a good story? Ok ok, I need a theme. Someone just shoot me. Maybe I should go back to just reading books and THINKING I could write a great story.

Overreaction? Probably. But there are so many things to think about when it comes to the craft of writing a good book. So what is a theme? On my computer I can pick a theme for my desktop display that will give me matching icons and sounds and even a desktop wallpaper. I can tie everything together with the click of a button. But what is a theme when it comes to fiction? I decided to turn to my old friend, Google, and ask him to help me.

He gave me a link –surprise surprise! The Glossary of Literary Terms offered this definition of theme:
theme (theem): a common thread or repeated idea that is incorporated throughout a literary work. A theme is a thought or idea the author presents to the reader that may be deep, difficult to understand, or even moralistic. Generally, a theme has to be extracted as the reader explores the passages of a work. The author utilizes the characters, plot, and other literary devices to assist the reader in this endeavor. One theme that may be extracted by the reader of Mark Musa’s interpretation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno is the need to take account of one’s own behavior now, for it affects one's condition in the afterlife.

So it’s a deep, difficult to understand, common thread? Heck that ought to be easy to write. Right? Right. So think about it for a moment in a different way. A theme is what holds your story together. The Goals & Motivation of your characters should relate directly back to the theme of your work. Once I discovered this idea, my books came together more easily. I was able to identify the theme then tie it back to the GMC or vice versa. It really was an eye-opener for me.

In the second of my shifter novels, Changing Hearts, one of the key themes is “healing." The main characters (H/H) are both seeking healing though they themselves aren’t fully aware of it. If you weave your character’s motivation into every scene – the driving force that makes that character what he/she is deep inside, you’ll begin to see what the central theme is behind that work. Then you can concentrate your efforts on making sure you’re hitting that theme in every scene. For me I need to hammer that theme without being blatant and that can be difficult. No one wants to read a story that is a modern version of A Pilgrim’s Progress when they think they are reading a paranormal romance.

I had to figure out how to weave in "healing" along with a great story about two people who have given up on love. Of course in a good story, your character’s goals and motivations will change from the beginning of the story to the end, but the theme will follow them throughout. The conflict will arise from their changing goals and changing motivation, and the theme will reflect that conflict as well.
A few common themes in literature are:
  1. The Individual in Nature

  2. The Individual in Society

  3. An individual's Relation to the gods.

  4. Human Relations

  5. Growth and Initiation

  6. Time

  7. Death

  8. Alienation

I would have to say that Changing Hearts is a mix of Human Relations (it is a love story after all) and Alienation (both characters are trying to find out where they fit in this world.) The prequel to this is Changing Times which has a theme of The Individual In Society as the hero and heroine have to learn to love each other and protect their world from a group that would like to rip it apart.

What are some themes in the books you read? What makes you pick a book up? What makes you put it down? Can you identify themes that speak to you as well as ones that repel you? I'd love to hear your opinions.


Anonymous said...

Truthfully, I'm more of a nonfiction guy. But on those occasions when a fiction piece stole my attention, it had to do with focus & determination...a clear and persistent desire, beyond all odds, to achieve/gain......something.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi All,
I find that works with themes resonate long after I put the books down. I enjoy books with a theme of self-realization, of people challenging themself to become more than they were before.

I also tend to write books with themes of journeying from brokenness into wholeness.


Kate said...

Some define themes as propositions proved by your work (Pat Kay's writing classes), and I think most memorable books make a statement. Defining a theme in terms of what the characters will learn throughout the book lets you more effectively set up scenes and subplots to interact with your theme--and since novels are about character growth, they come to a realization (generally implied) of the truth of your theme.

So maybe a theme for your book--which I haven't read--would be something like "Finding your true love means the two of you have a home with each other, regardless of the rest of the world."
or, since you referred to their having given up on love, maybe something like: "You can't love someone without trusting them completely."

Anonymous said...

The theme I seem to like best is Human relations and Alienation and death. I guess I am warped.LOL

Nancy said...

I think redemption is a theme I like. Going up against all odds. Actually, I'm not sure there is a theme I don't like.

A theme won't make me pick up a book or put it down. It's the story and characters, how they go after what they want that hold me.

Great blog, Marilu!