Melville really nailed the point well today. I wanted to spend some time talking about themes today. I do believe this is one of those areas where so many authors are lacking when it comes to their stories.
What I see, all too often, are authors who have great characters, or a great plot element to the story, but when we really dive into the story, we are left with a huge question - WHY?
I am sure you have watched a movie before, or read a novel, and you get to the end and think to yourself that something is missing. There were a lot of things you might have noted as being fun, exciting or emotional, but in the end, there was something still not there. The odds are, it was the theme of the story.
When we talk about theme, we are talking about what you really want the readers to walk away with when they reach the end of the story. It is that big message that you, as the author, are trying to teach us along the way. Too often, however, I find that writers confuse this with the story type. For example, "this is a coming of age story" or " this is a story about finding lost love." Now, while these can certainly be incorporated into the story, we still are missing what we need to learn from this book.
Now, I do know, when I bring this up at conferences, there is always someone who throws out the idea, "But can't we just write a book to entertain and not to teach?" At some level, yes, BUT, even if you ask comedians, they will often have a theme or a message with that routine. In many cases, those comedians are trying to get us to look a things we have been doing in our daily life and realize that we are being stupid, or acting in a way that just might need to change.
I should add here that many authors, after I point this out to them, will attempt to go back and identify what the theme was to their story. This really doesn't work. Sure, you might find small little messages throughout the book, but the theme is something that the ENTIRE book is focused toward. For that reason, authors really need to have a sense of that theme before they sit down and start crafting that novel.
If you think of the theme of the story, it is very similar to a thesis in an academic paper. Everything that goes into that paper is designed to address the thesis. The evidence, proof, analysis, claims and so forth are all elements that are there for the thesis. The same is true for a theme. Every action of the characters, every scene you place in the story, and every element of dialogue all support that theme.
Go back and take a look at the stories similar to those I spoke of at the beginning of this post. See if there really was a theme there. Hopefully, however, you are not looking at your story.
Have a great weekend everyone! I am off to do some work with my clients today!