So why should you be bothered to include a theme in your work? Well mainly because, without a theme, most stories will come across pointless and boring (unless of course pointless and boring is your theme) Theme is the key to your work being interesting.
A theme is really the reason for the story’s existence whether it is ‘good VS evil’ or ‘love conquers all’ it doesn’t matter – what matters is that its there and can be identified. Strangely most writers will subconsciously weave a theme into their work without even realising it – or even, when drafting, discover a whole new theme that they never even intended to write. This happens a lot to writers who are avid readers, to quote Hannibal Lector, ‘you covet what you know’ so by reading themed stories you naturally echo this through your own work.
There are literally hundreds on themes to pick from but here are some examples to get the ball rolling:
In Suzanne Collins’ ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy the main theme is about political oppression. The Capital created the Hunger Games to manipulate the other districts into doing what they’re told, to flex their power and prove they are in charge.
Charlaine Harris’ ‘Harper Connelly’ series was all about facing adversity and using a negative to an advantage. Harper is struck by lightning in her teens and can hence forth find dead bodies – she uses this skill to forge out an unlikely career for herself and ultimately achieve her own goals.
‘The Morganville Vampire’ books by Rachel Caine start with our protagonist Claire being mercilessly bullied because of her nerdy ways, pushing her to find a new home in the Glass House and start her epic vampire riddled adventure. Her brain becomes her biggest asset and throughout the series it’s held in higher esteem by the vampires than even her blood – theme here – be yourself, don’t hide who you are. It’s only when Claire truly accepts herself that her real adventures begin.
So the big question…how do you ensure your theme is identifiable and present in your work? Well it is simpler than you might think. Firstly, identify the theme or themes you want to include. For example let’s say I’m writing a story about a boy goblin that falls in love with a girl elf (I know, this would practically write itself!) so my main theme here is the old ‘love conquers all’. So I’d have my basic story down then make sure that some of the key events lend themselves to this theme – for example: Boy goblin has a long-standing best friend who hates elves and desperately tries to turn him against his girl – boy goblin won’t be turned and says to his friend, ‘a true friend would stand by me no matter who I love’ – he’s willing to give up his best friend for his elf lady-love – all together…Aaaah! The key to this is to link your theme to scenes in your story that have to happen anyway and move things along; what’s a good love story if there are no obstacles.
My short story ‘For Audrey’ that’s included in the zombie anthology ‘So long and Thanks for All the Brains’ is all about a zombie dog who goes above and beyond to protect his young owner Audrey from the rampaging flesh hungry hoards. My theme was loyalty – everything the dog did was out of loyalty and even though he was a zombie too, he was caretaker to her safety first and foremost. To highlight this theme through the story I had numerous incidents when he could have eaten Audrey or could have sided with his zombie brethren – but didn’t.
So OK, you have your theme that you are going to weave into your story – but whatever you do, do not fly tip masses of information in there! No Info Dumps! What’s an Info Dump? Well, I’ll talk about these in the next blog, but I promise I won’t include a horrible photo of a rubbish dump alongside!