Friday, February 13, 2009

What Is the Theme?

© A. F. Stewart 2009 all rights reserved

It's a pleasure to welcome author A. F. Stewart to Murder by 4 on one of her virtual book tour stops. Ms. Stewart has not only penned a wonderful, fast-pace fiction, but she is also a great supporter of fellow writers. Now, after publishing CHRONICLES OF THE UNDEAD, she asks,

Have you asked yourself: What is the theme of my book?

A theme is the dominant, underlying idea or concept that runs through your book; the motif you want to present in your writing. You should be able to reduce it to a sentence such as, crime doesn’t pay, justice prevails, and will triumphs over adversity (they’re a bit clich√©, I know, but to the point). A good writer should give some thought to the central theme of their book, but frankly I never did until recently. I figured writing was just penning a good, entertaining story, right?

As I was starting to write my latest book, CHRONICLES OF THE UNDEAD, I thought I would brush up on my writing skills, as all writers should. So, I obtained a book about writing technique (don’t ask me which one; sometimes my memory is a sieve), and eagerly began reading the wisdom imparted by the author. Buried in the pages was a discussion about theme and how to identify your theme. My first reaction was, theme, I’m supposed to have a theme? My second thought, what exactly was the theme of my book?

That got me thinking: what did I want to say with this book? Panic and confusion set in briefly, before my brain cells started working and I started asking myself questions. Did I want people to read it, enjoy it and then forget it? Or did I want to express something, some tiny part of the way I looked at the world? Can you even have the idea of theme in a genre book about vampires, isn’t that an idea for more literary works?

So I pondered the story I was writing, the characters and their motivations. I decided I could and should have a theme, that this was simply a premise, the core essence of my story idea. As I mulled over what made my book tick, I came to realise the basis of the book hinged a question: Would someone resist a dark, evil seduction? My answer in regard to a character was no, and the rest of the book evolved from the consequences of this answer.

I went back to my book, armed with this new insight, and set to work with visions of themes racing through my head. I contemplated appropriate themes, the nature of evil, resisting temptation, before settling on the consequence of choices. As I plotted, planned and penned, I kept the concept in my mind, letting the book evolve from this view; in fact, my new foundation changed a key plot point and the actions of two characters.

In my grand quest for theme, I found a unifying thread that sent me off in interesting writing directions, and, I feel, improved the book. It certainly tied together differing ideas and characters, allowing (I hope) a smooth transition from page to page.

About the Author

A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, and still calls it home. The youngest of a family of seven children, she has always had an overly creative mind, and an active imagination. She is fond of good books (especially science fiction/fantasy), action movies, and oil painting as a hobby.

Ms. Stewart has been writing for several years, her main focus being in the fantasy genre. She also has a great interest in history and mythology, often working those themes into her books and stories. To date she has authored and published a volume of poetry, TEARS OF POETRY, a collection of fantasy short stories, INSIDE REALMS, a small, non-fiction movie guide, THE INCOMPLETE LIST OF ACTION MOVIE CLICHES and a horror/vampire novella, CHRONICLES OF THE UNDEAD.

You can find her thoughts about writing and various excerpts from her books at her website:


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Excellent blog. Too often we don't even think about theme.

In my Rocky Bluff PD series, latest No Sanctuary, the them is always "How the family affects the job and the job affects the family."


Michelle S said...

A.F. - Your main thread, "Would someone resist a dark, evil seduction?" is an excellent one. It resonates with me, for sure.

Every Day Bloggers said...

Wonderful post. A.F. I'm going to spend some time today working on mine. I've been avoiding the subject. Generally, when someone asks I give my standard pact answer: the complexity of the child - parent relationship.

All my books have that theme, but you're so right, they're more than that.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice. Even with my non-fiction books, I need a theme to build the book around.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Good post, AF. I've had to write to themes in all my articles, seminars and public speeches, so themes are now unconcious for me. My stories have themes. I don't like stories that preach a theme, but I like to know there is an underlying one to the books I read or write.


Sheila Deeth said...

Excellent advice. I'm not sure where I read about theme either - think it might have been Stephen King's book. But it got me thinking and editing, and I think it made my novel a much better read (still unread, still dreaming...)

Pat Bertram said...

Odd about theme. I had the same revelation you did. After resisting the idea for so long (I mean, who cares about theme when you're reading a book?) but after working with one, I will never write another book without it. As you say, it's just the unifying idea, and all stories are better when they revolve around a solid core.

Best of luck with your book.