Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Oh No! Not Theme

Story Steps Two

The next step I take in writing a story is to search my idea for a theme. Yeah,  I know. Shudder. Shudder. The dreaded theme that we all hated having to know for literature class. I don’t know about you, but my idea of the theme seldom matched the theme the teacher chose. She or he always won though because their theme would be on the test, not mine. 

The whole experience made me skittish of themes. 

In the early days of my writing career, there was no Internet, few writers’ groups, and few writers’ conferences.  
Naturally, I jumped on the chance to attend a one day workshop featuring three writers in a nearby city. I’d written three novels but wasn’t having any luck finding a publisher. 
One of the instructors (the only female) threw out the word “theme” during her presentation. I mentally shuddered. What, does she think we’re in English class?

Although my first inclination was to tune her out, I was there to learn. 

I listened

She offered a whole new slant on theme. First of all, she shared its importance in storytelling. A light came on and I realized theme is one of the glues that hold a story together.

I still worried, though. How would I know a theme? Obviously, I couldn’t find a theme 
in all those short stories, poems, essays, and novels we had to read in school. At least, I couldn’t find the one blessed as THE THEME by some English teacher. 

The writer told us to look at our work–what we like to write about–because writers tend to revisit their favorite themes in their stories. 

It didn’t take me two seconds to realize I often write about second chances, especially in love. I did then and I still do. Sometimes my second chance involves characters who loved each other in the past (Feather’s Last Dance) and have reconnected after a separation. Or I write about characters who have loved and lost and had no intention of loving someone again (Billie in Stealing Destiny). Or maybe the characters have a second chance to explore a relationship cut off by circumstances beyond their control (Susannah’s Promise).

Ah ha! I pinpointed my favorite theme. 

Best of all, I knew it was correct because I was writing the stories.

Over the years I continued to study theme and the role it plays in stories. I believe if you know the general theme of your story from the beginning, writing the story becomes easier. Not every writer feels this way. If you prefer to write your story to discover the theme, then that’s how you write. 

For me, having a general grasp of the theme helps. 


Because it gives me direction.

I like to compare story theme with building a house. When you decide to build a house, you spend hours pouring over house plans and driving through neighborhoods, searching for the house that has the “look” you want. Once you settle on what you’d like the house to “look” like, the other choices follow in a natural order. 

For example, suppose you want to build a two-story house with an English manor exterior. That choice is going to define certain aspects of whatever floor plan you choose. It’s also going to define what type of architectural elements will be found through out the house. The type of windows and doors that will “go” with the house. What type of furniture you put in the house. You’ll probably strive for the “look” of an English garden in the landscaping.

The house will have a theme: English manor. Once you make that decision, the English manor “theme” will influence every purchase you make. 

This applies to your story, too. The theme shapes the choices you make, the characters you choose to tell the story, as well as the plot points, the dialogue, the setting.....I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  

Thus, I believe if you know the theme of your story at the beginning, you save a lot of time. You won’t need to “discover” the theme at the end of the story and revise the story to enhance and reflect the theme. 

Stay tuned, there’s more theme to come in the next blog.