I’m eight posts into my study on theme. I’ve grasped the concept of what theme is. I cannot, yet, identify theme easily in other’s works (or my own), but I understand the concept. I’ve studied writing books by Larry Brooks, James Scott Bell, and Donald Maass. Now I’m studying Randy Ingermanson’s book, Writing Fiction For Dummies.
All these books held something of value for my study, but Randy’s is the easiest to understand. (Note: I always refer to other authors by their last name out of respect, but in this case, I think I can call Randy by his first name. We’re Facebook friends. We’ve met in person several times, too.)
As I said before I got off track, Randy’s chapter on theme is easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to paraphrase in a short blog post. He says, “Theme is the deep meaning of your book. It’s the central message you’re trying to get across to your reader… the moral of the story.” He then offers twenty examples of famous books and their themes. He reiterates (as Brooks did) that readers take away different things from novels, so there could be multiple themes identified for a single story.
I’d like to offer a few of Randy’s examples, as they helped me immensely.
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon: “Love conquers all.”
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold: “There is justice in this universe.”
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger: “There is a love that transcends time.”
Contact, by Carl Sagan: “God is a mathematician.”
Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Blink, by Ted Dekker: “God is in control, whether you think so or not.”
The Firm, by John Grisham: “Be careful what you wish for.”
The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy: “The Evil Empire will destroy itself through its own incompetence.”
The thing that struck me was how general these themes are. If I said, “Guess which book has the theme that love conquers all,” nearly any romance title will be the right answer. “Justice prevails” works the same way. The theme of my latest book is, “There is great peril and price to seeking justice.” (You probably already guessed, but my husband came up with that one. I’m no longer clueless about what theme IS, but identifying it and putting it into a sentence is still beyond my grasp. Maybe someday.)
In the next post, I’ll offer you Randy’s advice on finding your theme if you don’t already know what it is.