It’s the first question we ask about a book, after maybe ascertaining if it’s a good read: “What’s it about?”
At what point do writers figure out what their own books are about, though? I asked Scarlett the other day about her work, and was duly fascinated. She turned the question back on me, and I was surprised to realize it was the first time I’d ever really considered it.
Usually when I’m asked, I clam up and inspect the wallpaper or fridge. I shy away from discussing any details too early; details like storyline, plot, etc.
But Scarlett got me thinking.
When I started my WIP, I had a theme as part of my hook. It was awful. The book became didactic. Then, thankfully, 70 pages in, the story completely metamorphosized. Suddenly, plot took over. I slumped in relief. The book began to have life to it. I put aside all thoughts of “theme” and the book gained for it. Real characters took over, real issues, real fun. It finally became the kernel of something worth reading. This, by the way, is why I’ve always known I needed to chop out 80 pages.
I began to notice that two of my characters struggled with an issue that I’ve long felt is rather unacknowledged in life. I smiled to myself and watched their different ways of integrating it into their lives. I’d written it in unintentionally (on a conscious level, at least), but it truly worked. It’s at the crux of their lives and their choices. It’s intrinsic to their lives, and I didn’t have “a point” in mind when I first wrote it in. Merely psychological exploration.
The moment I abandoned “a point” my manuscript became better.
So looking at theme now, it’s more that I’m wondering what I have in there, so that I can draw it out where it ought to be drawn out. So I can understand…what? The book? Myself? 🙂
I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Which of course gives birth to the Theme Meme:
1. Do you tend to pick books with certain themes, and if so what theme?
I don’t. I theme-hop. Organically move from one writer to another, then to the continents or time periods they’re from, etc. As a writer I now read to find books that’ll help me learn how to execute scenes, characters, etc.
2. Do you prefer certain themes, and how do you like to see them explored?
Hm. I love adventure, perhaps unsurprisingly. I love to see the world through different eyes. I like to see people come into their own. But this doesn’t play into what books I read. A great storyteller will capture me through any of a variety of themes.
3. Do you feel like your work explores the same themes you read about most, or not?
No. Strange how I say that instantly. I think my protagonists as I currently have them–maybe. With the exception that one of them mirrors some aspects of growing up as a teen immigrant in the US, something I did. Although her story’s very different from mine. My antagonists–nope. Have I mentioned that I really like my antagonists? 🙂
4. Would your literary theme/s match with your personal life theme/s?
I hope not! Haha! Oh, for someone who invented this meme, I’m a bit of a dunce. I guess “literary” could mean the books I read or the book/s I write. The new answer is sometimes. As I mentioned, the antagonists’ themes are things I’ve thought about quite a bit over the years.
5. If you had a theme song for your life, what would it be?
(It’s so much easier to ask than to answer, isn’t it?!) I’m not sure, but it’d be something pretty peppy yet about being a pilgrim through life.
6. What about a theme song for your books?
Yep. Two songs by Josh Woodward. One of my characters probably took her name from his music, too. He’s so much the soundtrack to so many parts of the book, actually, that if it gets published, Woodward’s getting thanked in print. 🙂
Josh’s website (with sample music) is listed under Great Websites on the right-hand side of my blog screen, btw. Check him out; he’s awesome.