Larry Brooks, in his book Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing, attempted to teach me about theme. Thankfully, building a theme into my story is a skill that can be taught. Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner when it comes to abstract ideas. In high school lit class, I was always the last one to figure out the theme of the story. Now that I’m writing my own stories, I’d better figure out how to do it. After all, Brooks says, “The more you value and cultivate the themes in your stories, the better those stories will be.” I want my stories to be fantastic, so I’ve got to master this concept of theme.
I’ll admit, I’m only six pages into the chapter and I’m feeling a little stupid. Brooks says theme is the meaning of the story. It reflects me. And then he says theme divides into two realms: stories where theme emerges from character, and stories in which the character experience has been crafted to focus on and communicate a specific theme.
He gives two examples. In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s point of view comes out clearly about issues of religion, the church, and the veracity of history. The plot and character arc specifically pointed to this theme, to challenge the reader’s belief systems and values.
The Cider House Rules by John Irving speaks about right-to-life issues, like abortion and orphanages. Unlike Dan Brown, John Irving didn’t land on one side of the issue. He explored all sides of it, allowing the reader to experience the emotions of both sides and thus decide if his or her opinion has shifted after reading the book.
Brook says, “Brown was selling us a point of view on an issue, while Irving was exploring an issue.”
I clearly see the difference between these two realms. I can’t identify which of them MY story fits into, but I understand them. That’s a step in the right direction!