Hello gentle reader,
Let’s say you’ve written a novel. You’ve developed its plot, fleshed out its characters, worked hard on its world-building and polished it for submission. You’ve sent it off to CPs, or agents, or editors. And the feedback you’re getting is something along the lines of “I didn’t care much/enough about the story.” This might mean your manuscript wasn’t this CP’s/agent’s/editor’s cup of tea. Or it might mean there’s an issue with themes in your story.
What are themes?
Every story has a PLOT and a THEME. Your plot is what happens to your characters and the problems they have to resolve. Your theme is what your story means, its relevance to the reader’s life.
For example in The Hunger Games, the plot is about Katniss taking part in the games and surviving them with Peeta. However the themes of the story are social inequalities, and life and death offered as entertainment, among others.
Do you need a theme in your novel?
This is my opinion, but I tend to say: yes, yes you do, very much. Some books focus on plot so much that they forget about themes. The result can be entertaining, but it’s also easily forgettable and quite frankly, hollow. Great books, which stay with the reader long after they’ve read it, offer a balance of plot and theme. They are both entertaining (=with a good plot) and they make the reader question his/her convictions (=with its themes).
How do I choose my themes?
Much like choosing the events that will make up your plot, choosing your themes is up to you, really. You need to ask yourself the question: which topics matter to me in life? You also need to make sure your theme matches the genre you’re writing in. With Historical fiction, I find it’s easy to think of themes just by researching the concerns of the time period I chose for my setting. They usually resonate a lot more with our modern lives than we could expect.
How do I weave my themes into my plot?
That’s the tricky part. You don’t want your themes to be impossible to get, but you don’t want to bang your reader on the head with them either. You need to strike a balance between plot and theme, and never preach or feel the need to make your theme obvious, EVEN IN CHILDREN’S BOOKS. If you manage to do that, then…
Any thoughts on themes? Any advice to mix plot and themes efficiently? Feel free to leave me a comment below!