Theme

17 May

To discover a theme in an existing book is challenging enough, but to find one for your own story, well, that’s like extinguishing a fire with a handkerchief. The theme expresses a universal message and I’ve been taught that a theme is very important. You need to know what you want to say with your story, even if a book isn’t literary fiction, or maybe especially then.

There is a difference between the subject of a book and the theme. A subject is what it’s about, while a theme is about what you want to say with your story. A subject can be: loneliness. A theme can be: loneliness is just a state of mind. You then use your story to prove your theme. That is why a theme is a good thing to have, it keeps you on track and reminds you of why you are writing your story.

That is easier with literary fiction, because that usually deals with universal dilemmas, but what if you want to write a different genre, what if you just want to write something light and fun? What if the story just dropped in your lap without a yellow post-it that tells you the theme?

With me, usually the story comes without a clear idea of its theme and I never used to think about it. Until I learned that the theme is really important, it’s the soul of the story. And even if a story is written because it’s cool or fun, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a theme. Every story has a theme, but it doesn’t always explore it or say something about it. And that’s the difference between a fun book and a good book.

So now, when a fun story comes to me—as they so often do—I write down what the characters are struggling with and make that into a subject and then into a statement about that subject. And then I make sure I prove that statement with my story. It sounds easier than it is. Especially since most of the time, but especially with the first draft, I just want to get the story written. I follow the scent in my brain that leads me to the ending. Where my reward is cheese. Hmm, cheese. But at the end of that maze I want to be able to look back and see that I’ve written something with substance. When I wrote a lot of poetry during my teen years, I always had a message in my poems, so why not with my stories? I have plenty to say and I would love to be able to reach out to people and make them think and debate. After all, isn’t that one of the wonders of books?

With theme also comes symbolism, because symbolism is a great way of hinting at your theme. For instance, if your theme relates to freedom, you could use birds to represent freedom. Also, buildings can represent strength. Darkness can represent evil. Flames/fire can represent anger, etc. Symbolism is fun, because it’s like you’re winking at the reader. And who doesn’t like being winked at? Well, unless it’s a creepy wink, but that’s not the case here. So feel free to wink at your reader all you want and throw some symbolism in your story cauldron, along with the theme. 😉

 

 

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