Happy Wednesday, my writing friends,
Recently someone asked me to describe the theme of a book I was reading. I tried, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t figure it out. It was foggy, at least to me. This started me thinking about the importance of clearly communicating theme in our stories.
Most great books have obvious themes.
Great Expectations—ambition and self improvement
A Wrinkle in Time—the ultimate triumph of love
Les Miserables—the power of redemption
Pride and Prejudice—well … Jane Austin just comes right out and tells us, doesn’t she.
A well-portrayed theme boosts a book from something to fill an afternoon, to a life-impacting experience. Oh, I’ll never forget how The Robe changed me. There’s a book with a magnificently shown theme.
Let’s figure out what it’s all about, then in following weeks, we’ll look at finding the elusive theme and incorporating it into our stories.
What Theme Is Not
It’s not a preconceived agenda to preach at readers. I once edited a book and every page felt sticky. (Do you know what I mean?) It dripped with the author’s agenda, and I hated the feeling it gave me. Story and character depth were thrown aside, replaced by the author’s desire to teach me something. I resented it.
Preaching in fiction is a big no no. Avoid at all costs!
Two Sides of the Coin
Yet, even though I don’t want to preach, I do want to convey truth. That’s where theme comes in. A theme is the overarching essence of the story. It’s the other side of the coin from the plot.
My latest book, Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Alaska, (coming out in January—woo hoo!) is about a mail-order nanny who goes to
to help a widowed missionary and his family. That’s the plot side of the coin.
The other side (the theme) is: Learning to trust in Christ above self or
Both are important. Both race through my mind as I plan a story. For me, it’s impossible to separate them. (We’ll get more into that in the following weeks.)
One Last Word
Like a gift we give our readers, theme surprises. They thought they were just going on a romantic journey, or a suspense ride, or a comedic tour, but along the way, we can give them something even more powerful. A challenge to their thinking. An encouragement to cherish life. A nudge toward forgiveness, peace, action, or who knows what else.
That’s what a well-crafted theme can do. Isn’t writing fun!?
What books or movies do you think have the most clearly defined themes? What’s been your experience with them?
I’d love to hear.
God bless and happy writing!
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/randysonofrobert/456250017/">Randy Son Of Robert</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photo pin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>