The themes of our stories tackle tough issues. More often than not, they deal with conquering fears: Fear of the unknown, fear of others, and fear of ourselves. The novel may be packaged as a romance, mystery, fantasy, or adventure story, but at its very core it’s about facing the things that make us tremble, sweat, and run the other way.
Few writers start with a theme when they begin a story. Usually, one of the voices in our heads (AKA characters) demands that we tell their story. Their story is, of course, intricately and impossibly entwined with our own.
The theme is discovered along the journey to the climax of the book. It is woven in your character’s arc and the challenges faced throughout the book by any character. The various decisions that are made about each challenge shows a different facet of the theme. The character’s turn it every which way as the plod along trying to figure out what it is, and how to ultimately deal with it.
Someone famous once said, a writer only writes one story. The characters, setting, and plot all change, but the theme is the same. The theme of a story is what resonates with readers. It draws them in because they see themselves in the characters or they see their life in the challenges and decisions made.
I don’t have a degree in literary arts, but my guess is that if you look at a group of books written in any particular generation or era you would find similar themes running through all of them. The challenges and achievements of a culture or particular people.
Books create a safe space. A place where writers can express their darkest rational or irrational fear and readers can feel validation and companionship in their suffering and pain. How often do we come across a line in a book or just a few words and say to ourselves, “Yes, I know that feeling. It is an old friend of mine.”
I look at my own writing and reading, and I see patterns that match with the patterns and journey of my life. Overcoming adversity, conquering what appears to be overwhelming odds, an indomitable spirit, issues surrounding trust, and discovering who we are as individuals and within the world as a whole.
Within my stories, I am safe to relive the lessons again and again until I finally figure it out.
What are the themes of your life?