What is this theme you are talking about Angela, and why do I need it in my novel?
Very good question!
A theme is:
“an underlying….message to your story. This is an idea that runs through the whole of the novel. The message could be, for example, “crime doesn’t pay,” or “love conquers all”.
(Taken from my post So, you wanna be a writer? Five things you need to do in Act One of your story.)
But, why do I need a theme?
Because it will make your story flow and will bring cohesion to your narrative.
It’s the mission statement of your novel.
You don’t have to explicitly tell the reader your theme but it will inform your writing and thus be implied.
My first ever novel, Dragon Rider, had the message that Revenge is self-destructive.
From the beginning of the novel. I state my case;
“It is said that a man with revenge in his heart should dig two graves; one for his enemy and one for himself. Perhaps this is true, but I’m not ready to take to my grave. Not yet.
I ask you; what do you do if there is no justice? If the law itself is rotten and corrupt. What then? Should we let those who do wrong get away with it, turn the other cheek to their crimes?”
And then, at the end of the novel, I state;
“All I know is that now I have my revenge. Fenrik is destroyed and for that I am grateful. But I will never be healed. The hatred, the need for revenge has kept me alive for far too long and now it pulses through my veins like my lifeblood.”
Revenge as a self-destructive force runs as a theme throughout the novel.
The theme is a universal idea that transcends cultural barriers.
If the Plot is the what of the story, and the characters of the novel are who, the theme of the story is why.
So, how do I create a theme?
It starts with you. You have to decide what message you want to convey in your story. Do you want to say something about love, for example? And what would that be? Love conquers all? Love makes us fools?
But, don’t preach!
Nothing will put a reader off more than preaching at them about something you believe in. The theme should be subtle and hidden within the lines of text but not too hidden that it isn’t conveyed to the reader. They should be able to detect the theme lying just below the surface.
If you’re a plotter, plot your novel (even if it’s just the bare bones), consider your character’s motivations, the conflict in your story and then brainstorm ideas for your theme.
If you’re a pantser, again, consider the conflict in your story, your character’s motivations and begin to piece together the message you are trying to convey. The skeleton of your theme will probably be in your writing already, waiting to be discovered. Once you find it, you can edit your work to make the theme and your writing more cohesive.
And remember, the theme can be conveyed through a character’s actions, speech and thoughts, and the symbolic use of the environment (In Bones, I use the weather as an indicator of the tone of the scene. Maybe a bit cliche but, I don’t care, I like it :)).
What themes can you think of? How have you conveyed these themes to the reader? What worked? What didn’t?
Let me know!