Bringing out a theme.

by Alys
(Corning, NY)

Question: In the novels I have read, there is a theme, but you must look for it. I want to write a series in which the theme is something that reoccurs and doesn't make you think of twenty different possibilities for the major one. How can I do this in my writing? I know I can't openly state this in my writing, but I want it to be easy to realize, not hard to find. Thank you!


Answer: The risk you face in being too open about theme is that you can come across as too heavy-handed. I'm sure you've come across stories where there is only one clear , right answer to the main issue. The writer has a message he is trying to convey, and you feel like he is trying to beat you over the head with it.

It is generally better to explore many aspects of the theme through different characters with different opinions and in different types of situation. Sometimes one answer seems right. Sometimes another. The reader is then invited to weigh the issue for himself and reach his own conclusion. (Of course, you are free to stack the evidence a little in favour of your chosen message.)

The other reason you may find theme a bit subtle in stories is that (contrary to what English teachers sometimes say) often there will be more than one theme. The overall story may have one theme while the main character's throughline has another. Ditto for the other two major throughlines. Hence, the real theme will actually be none of these but an ineffable thing that sits in the empty space at the centre of them all.

The reader is not supposed to grasp it easily, because the writer wants the reader to think. Easy answers are not worth much.

Or, as the Taoists might say, the theme that can be spoken is not the real theme.

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