4 March 2015

Wednesday Writing Prompt #12 - Theme

You may be writing about a set of characters, or a premise, but are you also writing on a theme?

For a short story the theme may take on the mantle of a moral or proverb: All that glitters is not gold.

You may believe you are, say, writing about an obsessive journalist who puts his/her friends through hell to gain a coveted interview, but comes away with such dross that even the best wordsmith cannot make it saleable. The theme – all that glitters... – is what the story is portraying. The characters, the plot points of the story, make up the vehicle which conveys the theme to the reader.

Not all short stories have themes, but most novels do, even if the writer isn’t fully aware of it at the time of writing. It took years for me to realise that the theme of my first published novel, Hostage of the Heart, was ‘fear of betrayal’.

I am now far more astute at recognising the themes of my longer works. For instance, I’d hardly written beyond Chapter 2 of The Bull At The Gate when I knew that what I was writing about was ‘perceptions of reality’. There are three major storylines running through this novel:
  • the hero’s determination to free his dead lover trapped between planes
  • the suspicion of the police that the hero is both mentally fragile and responsible for the disappearance of a young woman
  • a Roman, living within the same space as the contemporary setting but in a different time, fears that his religion is under threat from a rising cult

The three storylines reflect and twist about one another as each proceeds. As the novel closes I leave the reader to reconsider their own perceptions of what occurred. After all, The Truth does not exist; only a person’s perception of The Truth exists – both in real life and in fiction.

Complicated? It was written as a thriller, so although the theme may take some explaining, the writing is straightforward. But it is certainly a stronger novel, a more multi-layered novel, for my keeping the theme in mind as I was writing it.

If you re-read a piece of your own fiction, can you recognise its theme? Would it be a stronger work if it was tweaked, or even re-written, to prune what does not support its theme? You may think this hardly matters, but it is part and parcel of what a developmental editor does. And if you can do it yourself, you’re halfway home.

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