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June 1st, 2009
What’s Your Theme?

I love a good challenge. It keeps me on my toes, and makes life interesting. True, some real-life challenges I could definitely do without. But as a writer, I believe in pushing myself and expanding the horizons of my craft, in order to give my readers better stories. So, every year I try to learn something new, some aspect of writing that I haven’t consciously tackled before.

Last year, my project was “theme.”

Theme isn’t something that a lot of fiction writers (especially genre fiction) talk about. Or even think about. In fact, a lot of us have no idea what theme really is. Not enough to be useful, anyway. That included me before last year. I still find it hard to define.

Every good book has a theme, but mostly an author does it by instinct, not through deliberate planning (unless you’re a screenwriter, which is a whole different ballgame).

Theme is not about the plot. Or a “message” the author wishes to convey. Often it’s kind of a philosophical hypothesis, which the story either proves or disproves…or sometimes it’s a broader human emotional need that the story simply explores.

For instance, the theme of my July SRS, PRINCE CHARMING FOR 1 NIGHT, runs something like: “Appearances can be deceptive. Look beyond the surface and you can find your greatest happiness.” Yep. It’s Cinderella (could you tell by the title? ☺). One of my favorites! Like all great stories, the Cinderella faerie tale contains several themes that work on different levels. The appearances thing. The “If you’re mean to those less fortunate you will not prosper” thing. Or how about “True love will find each other.” There are lots more.

As a reader, we recognize the theme or themes that speak to us, and we can enjoy that same story in different guises a thousand times and never grow tired of it.

But theme goes even deeper than that. Ever notice how your favorite author’s works all seem to have a similar thread running through them? That’s because as writers, who we are, what our hopes and dreams and fantasies are, they all shine through in our writing, in the form of our personal theme. At first a writer usually isn’t even aware she is writing to a theme. Not until she has six or seven books under her belt, and suddenly she notices a pattern.

out of AfricaFor me, under the page-turning suspense and the sizzling sensuality found in all my books, I always write about the deep human need to find a place of belonging. The isolation we all feel, and the desire to seek connectedness, even in the face of overwhelming pain.

Pretty powerful stuff. Which probably would have taken years and years of therapy to bring out if I weren’t a writer!

Yikes.

Okay, so I’ve spilled mine. Now it’s your turn!

What is your personal literary theme? What theme speaks to you most as a reader, or a writer?

Good reading!!!

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