T is for Theme
I never really got theme except that it was the meaning behind the story, the message. I didn’t give much thought to it. I do now.
Theme is the controlling idea that drives the novel. It goes hand in hand with the internal conflict of the main character. If you aren’t sure what the theme of you story is then look at the struggles of your main character.
And I’ve noticed depending on the book there are different levels of theme. They go from one extreme to the other.
Literary / character driven novel
This kind of novel is big on theme, symbolism, and layers. It’s everywhere on every page. The story follows the life of a character. As Margo pointed it out in her recent post, there’s more micro tension than big story tension.
Literary / character-driven novel with a big hook (like death or special powers)
These books end up being award winners because they attract a large audience but also leave the reader with a strong emotional impact due to theme. The story has the big hook but that’s not really what the story is about. It’s still more about the character.
Literary / commercial / possibly high concept
This novel is my favorite. It is both plot and character driven. It is extremely well written, strong internal conflicts, theme, and character arc yet the story has high stakes.
Plot driven with a strong emphasis on character
I added this in this morning because often times we have stories that aren’t really high concept but aren’t literary either. This kind of story could be strengthened with the use of the theme through emphasizing the character’s arc and internal conflict. Stories only improve by having a strong character arc. No matter how plot driven they might be.
Commercial / plot-driven, high concept novel
I also love these stories but they tend not to stay with me as long. The focus of the story is not on theme. It’s part of the internal conflict but the emphasis is on the plot and how the characters deal with obstacles. This kind of story is usually on a lower reading level with not as much use of imagery, poetic and rhetorical devices. It’s not worse just a different style of writing.
Of course there are stories that fall somewhere in between.
Which kind do you like to read? And on which level does your writing fall? How much do you consider theme when writing?