A theme. Your theme doesn’t have to be intellectually deep, or even that prominent. It just has to be the over-arching meaning behind the moral of your story. This is what we will discuss today.
Now, to begin with, you need to know that it is not critical for you to know your theme right from the moment you begin writing. Often times, it’s even better that you don’t know your theme beforehand. Why? Well, let me put you in two different scenarios.
- Scenario One
So, say you decide to write a novel all of a sudden with no explanation and plop yourself in front of your computer to write. For several months you attack that novel, writing your heart and soul out. Once you have completed the first draft, you sit back and relax, taking a well-deserved break from the furious hours you spent writing that thing.
After a few days, you look back over your work and realize that it’s a load of junk. Your characters are predictable/shallow, the plotline is weak, the dialogue feels forced, and the whole manuscript is filled with typos. That wonderful piece of art you thought you had, that amazing idea you had, is now hidden behind all the mistakes in your novel.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the good part: Even though the manuscript may need another re-write, or several, you now know everything you want to happen. You know what you want the characters to be like, and you know their whole past lives now.
The plot line that had seemed so great to start with? It’s still there. It might need a lot of refining, it might need a few tweaks, but it’s still in there. By sitting down and just writing that first draft, you know where you wanted the story to go.
And the theme. The theme of your novel will reveal itself the further along you are in the writing process. I know mine did.
- Scenario Two
Say you decide to write a novel, but you don’t know how. So you go on the internet and look up what tools you need for a well- thought-out novel. You see that the four main tools are: a story world, characters, plot, and theme. So then you go sit down and think some more about the idea you had.
You already had some character ideas, your world was already thought up in your head, you have this great plot thought out…but what is your theme? What would be the main purpose for your novel? After thinking about this for a while, you decide that the theme for your novel is “Everyone needs love in their life.” So you sit down and start writing.
While you write, you try to fit this idea you had into the theme you chose. When your character does something that doesn’t fit into the theme, you delete it. By choosing a theme from the start, you box yourself in, and you have to fit everything in according to that theme you chose.
Now, I am by no means saying that it is bad to do your research and plan out the details of your novel. That can be good. And just like in scenario one, you’ll still have characters to shape up, plot lines and loose ends to tie up, and typos to fix. You’ll still have the potential of a great story in there. Every first draft is junk. There’s a diamond hidden in that junk, but it doesn’t show up until you start to refine your story.
The reason picking a theme before you write might be a bad idea is because, right at the beginning, you don’t know everything about your novel (at least I don’t), and by boxing yourself in with a theme, you don’t give yourself the full creative right. You don’t let yourself write what may need to be written because it might not fit into your theme.
One trap many writers fall into is thinking that if they have a great theme, they don’t need to put in the hard work of formulating equally great characters, plot lines, or world. Don’t fall into this trap! If there’s one thing that can be left out until the last minute, it’s theme. All the others are more important. Theme is important too, but you can be as vague as “evil doesn’t pay” or “love conquers all,” and you don’t have to be specific. You don’t have that freedom with the other three building blocks. With those you need to be very specific.
There are no rules in writing, however, so take or leave my advice. This has just been my experience with writing. There are plenty of well-established authors who made up their own set of rules, and you can do that too. I made a set of rules that I need to follow because it works the best for me. You need to create a set of rules that works the best with your writing style.
I hope you have enjoyed my series on writing, and thank you for reading.