I used to just write my novels and never worry about crafting a message. I mean, they were just supposed to be fun reads, I wasn’t trying to change the world or examine my navel. But after reading Larry Brooks’s Story Physics and Story Engineering, I started to look at my written creations differently. I started to break them down into manageable chunks and pick apart their insides as I tried to figure out how they worked. Or more appropriately in my case, didn’t work. I mean let’s face it, I’ve written ten novels and not one of them has been a best seller. Not even close. So I had to be doing something wrong.
I’ve slowly come around to understanding theme and now I won’t start without knowing what my novel’s theme is. Once you know your one or two word theme, you can have it in the back of your mind when you’re plotting your story. It may even cause you to restructure events or change character motivations to stay on theme. While you’re writing your novel your theme gestates in the background of your subconsciousness waiting to be inserted into action or dialog as needed. Often times you don’t even know you’re doing it until the first draft is over and then you go looking for where the story reinforces your theme. Then you see that your brain was doing more than just putting words on the page, it was secretly making those words bring out your theme.
This all results in a narrative that feels right when the reader consumes your book. She probably won’t be aware of it, but when she puts it down after finishing it, she’ll have this warm glow inside. At least that’s how I like to think a good novel affects it’s reader. Of course both of my readers are males and I’m hoping they decide to go out and buy the next book in the series. Or at least stare lovingly at the awesome starships on the cover, which in turn might lead them to buy another shiny cover.
For my current WIP – K’nat Trap, I have established that the theme is simply Trust. The extent to which characters trust each other, determines how successful they will be in the story. It’s not just the main characters either. I carry the theme down into the minor roles too. It’s a novella, so there are less characters with arcs as in a typical novel, but even the bit characters have to learn to trust. Or they don’t learn and suffer the consequences.
My wife always gets mad at me and the boys when she reaches over to put something she’s been cooking into our mouths. She always gets mad when we insist on knowing what it is or looking at it first. Her argument is that she wouldn’t ever give us something that wasn’t good. So we should just trust her and eat whatever she hands us in the steaming spoon. She’s never given me something nasty tasting so you’d think I would have learned that by now. Still, I have to look at it before I eat it.
There are many forms of trust in life and the more ways I can work examples of trust into the story helps solidify my theme.