I recently ran into some writing tips on Theme on a blog an author friend, Rashelle Workman pointed me to, and though I basically had heard this before, it seemed to click with me this time. Clicked so much that it's given me the insight I need to fix the pesky problems that has seemed to plague me concerning two of my works in progress. I'd like to share them with you here, and then share how I'm going to incorporate them in my works--as much for my benefit as yours.
When we teach writers how to write a novel or a memoir, we emphasize how crucial theme is in the process. The best novels and the most life-changing memoirs you will ever read are the ones that help you discover a truth about the human condition.
A theme in a book should never be stated but should be developed through character changes and plot escalation.
In The Art of Dramatic Writing Lajos Egri says well-defined characters drive plots. He emphasizes the consistency of change in life. Characters have to adapt, evolve and ‘synthesize’ new philosophies. They do this after facing many overwhelming obstacles.
What is a theme?
Theme is the central idea of the story.
It is better if it is a full statement, with a subject and a verb.
It sums up what the story shows us about the human condition. It is not a moral. It is simply a statement.
Honesty is the best policy.
Who dares wins.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Home is where the heart is.
The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.
You never really know anybody.
People are predictable.
People with nothing to lose are dangerous.
Love conquers all.
What does not kill you makes you stranger.
Blood is thicker than water.
You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.
The best novels and the most life-changing memoirs you will ever read are the ones that help you discover a truth about the human condition.
So, what is theme in relation to stories?
· The underlying message of the story or the main idea.
· What the story means.
· It is a belief or idea that goes beyond culture and is universal, touching on the human experience.
The theme of a story is the lesson or message about life that is learned from a story.
Basically, if you know what your story is about, what its meaning is, and what the lesson is, you know your theme
That said, I know now why my two works in progress are giving me fits: they don't have well defined themes. I sort of knew what they were about, and because of that my stories were just stories, moving from one scene to the next. Though each scene was fairly interesting, and the characters engaging, the story lacked the substance needed to stick each component together and give purpose to each scene. That was THEME.
So here are the newly established themes for my books:
Sprout- a middle-grade magical realism book about a twelve-year-old science geek who finds a giant seed in the forest and sprouts himself a little brother.
THEME: Life is not always black and white.
problem: Pete has always believed that science can explain everything, but he has to let go of his scientific thinking as his new brother proves him wrong.
The Big Bang- A YA inspirational teen novel with historical and fantasy twists
THEME: The best way to find if God is there, is to follow Him.
Problem; Josh wants to know for himself if God is really there, but everywhere he turns it seems people have taken God out of the equation, so how can he learn and decide for himself about God.