Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Do you have a Theme?

Time and time again, I see stories come across my desk that are full of plot but no direction. How can this be you ask? It all comes down to a theme (or lack thereof).

First of all, remember that I am a literature major. This means that I have spent countless hours reviewing and studying literature trying to understand the characters and the plots, but also the themes of books. What I have been seeing lately, however, are books with no theme. Apparently, writers lately believe that all you need is a great couple of characters, or a great plot line and you are off and running.

This is far from the truth. To find a story that has depth, you have to have a theme. In other words, what is it that you want the reader to get out of the book.

No, this does not mean that every story should have a moral. And no, I don't want to hear from all of you complaining that it is good to have a story that is there for just entertainment purposes. You can have that, but you still need to have an over-all theme that ties the whole thing together.

Now, once you establish that theme, it is up to you to build a story with realistic characters around it that have the single purpose of driving home that theme to the reader. So, what are those themes? They can be as simple as understanding loss, or learning independence. Even the Stephanie Myers books have themes to them (and no it isn't simply about teenage love). These books are about self discovery. They are about learning to grow and deal with differences.

Your homework now is to sit down and figure out exactly what you want the people reading your book to walk away with. Oh, and by the way, you can't just create this after the fact. You have to see it from the beginning and if it isn't there, you might want to reconsider this book before you send it off in my direction (or any agent for that matter).



  1. Scott --

    Your last 3 posts have been great! So informative and on-the-mark. Just wanted to let you know I've been enjoying your blog a lot lately.

    I can't wait to query you (when my book is ready.)

    I have a couple of questions for you:

    Do we have to write sex to sell? Can't a romance be great without explicit sex? Aside from the Christian market, is there a market for a great romance without graphic sex scenes?

    Also, have you done any research to see what kinds of stories sell best during economic downturns?

    Last, are you expecting a glut of Na-No queries to flood your inbox at the end of the month? Would it be better to hold off on querying if you haven't participated?

    Thank you!

  2. On theme...

    I think that with the balancing act we have to do as aspiring authors already on overload in todays market, it can be difficult to find either an unused theme, or a theme that hasn't been beaten to death over the years.

    Our spin on how we use our theme can certainly make all the difference, but there is a VERY fine line between what you are explaining as 'theme' and what can become didactic.

    I'm sure most authors have some morsal of a theme in their writing. Unless they are completely missing char growth and a plot that makes the chars overcome.

    Do you find that a large amount of these submissions are either not showing the theme well enough throughout the story in their chars or are they going overboard so you feel like you've had a soapbox sermon when you're done reading?


  3. Great post!
    Very true. My stories start out with a theme (usually related to a scripture as I write inspirational romance) but I'm glad you've reminded us to keep that theme going.
    I love literature. Sigh. I would've majored in it too.

  4. I'll answer these questions in order...

    Anon, yes you can write great stories without the sex. Sure, stories are getting hotter, but I personally think it is compensation for the stories not being stronger. Just my opinion on that.

    I have to say, what I get across my desk are stories that keep me asking, what was the point of this. I know the action may be great, the sex scenes hot, but come on, if I just see a bunch of connected scenes with no focus, I just want to scream.