Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Power of Theme by Carol McClain

The time came to make the plunge and ditch New York for more hospitable climes. My husband and I would head to Tennessee.

Often my novels take a humorous twist. A friend thought it would be funny to show the huge differences between the far reaches of New York and the hills of Tennessee.

I agreed.

Then we moved here.

Aside from cornbread and a sometime indecipherable hill dialect, no differences existed. There went my novel.

Still, my friend nagged about the book as I went about my life. Nothing came to mind because my head wrapped itself around the idea of extremes.

Then one day it hit me. Preconceptions.

How often do we judge others by our biased notions?

With theme, came the book, A New York Yankee on Stinking Creek.

Theme is often underrated in inspirational books. In romances, many writers think only of the love angle, not of a deeper meaning that would draw the reader in.

Suspense writers devise tangled plots to keeping us on our seat’s edge. But what about the nuanced side of things? The flaws that drew the good guys in to solve the problem, especially if they’re not law enforcement? What ideal motivates their fight?

And sometimes, theme is overrated.

In contemporary novels, the author’s conviction is too often preached. I’ve read my share of Christian fiction where a character expounded on the salvation message in detail. She quoted long passages of familiar scripture. With most readers already Christian, the writing became too didactic or too strident. Both turn off the reader.

Or, at least, me.

A book without passion may entertain for a day, but a book motivated by conviction lives for a lifetime. Think of those books that live in your memory. 1984, Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby. These are old books, sometimes too didactic, but they remain in my mind the best books I’ve ever read.

Why? Theme: the methods of totalitarianism, sacrificial love, a foolish quest for an ideal that doesn’t exist. The universal themes resonated. The reach out to me today, even decades since I’ve read the books.

When teachers of writing illustrate their points, they always pick The Wizard of Oz. Why was this so popular? There’s no place like home.

Look at your current work. What controls the story aside from plot? What drives the conflict? Dive deep. Think of your passion and let it subtly direct your writing.

Donald Maas says, “If a powerful problem is a novel’s spine, then a powerful theme is its animating spirit...It starts with having something to say” (Writing the Breakout Novel, 230).

A New York Yankee on Stinking Creek took flight once I nailed the theme it cried out to me to write.

Theme will do that to you.

In romances, many writers think only of the love angle, not of a deeper meaning that would draw the reader in. via @carol_mcclain #SeriouslyWrite #amwriting


Author Carol McClain is an eclectic artist and author. Her interests vary as much as the Tennessee weather—running, bassoons, jazz, stained glass and, of course, writing. She’s a transplant from New York who now lives in the hills of East Tennessee with her husband and overactive Springer spaniel.

She is the president of ACFW Knoxville and the secretary of the Authors’ Guild of Tennessee.

The world in East Tennessee intrigues her from the friendly neighbors to the beautiful hiking trails and the myriad wildlife.

Life is good in here.


Alone, again, after the death of her fiancĂ©, abstract artist Kiara Rafferty finds herself on Stinking Creek, Tennessee. She wants out of this hillbilly backwater, where hicks speak an unknown language masquerading as English.  Isolated, if she doesn’t count the snakes and termites infesting her cabin, only a one-way ticket home to Manhattan would solve her problems.

Alone in a demanding crowd, Delia Mae McGuffrey lives for God, her husband, her family, and the congregation of her husband’s church. Stifled by rules, this pastor’s wife walks a fine line of perfection, trying to please them all. Now an atheist Yankee, who moved in across the road, needs her, too.

Two women. Two problems. Each holds the key to the other’s freedom.