Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Writing to a Theme

Some authors don’t know the theme of their novel until after they have finished writing it. It can be helpful to know the theme as you write because it will guide you through the writing process. Scenes that don’t support or oppose the theme in some way can usually be eliminated without hurting the novel and doing so often helps. If we know the theme, early in the novel we need to state the theme.

We don’t do something as blatant as saying, “My theme is good conquers evil.” Instead, we do something offhand. We don’t even have our protagonist state the theme. In a classic hero/villain story, we wouldn’t want to have the hero tell the villain, “you can’t win because good conquers evil.” Instead we might have a friend of the hero talking about a mean person at work. “No matter how badly she treats me, I going to treat her good, because good overcomes bad.” Then in the rest of the book we will go about proving that statement, mostly through the interaction between the hero and villain, rather than the situation at the friend’s workplace.

Theme isn’t the same thing as genre. Consider the highly constrained Romance genre. We know the girl is going to get the guy, but our theme will create variations on that. If we use the good conquers evil theme of today, then the girl will get the guy only after good conquers evil. If we use the God blesses tithing theme from yesterday, then maybe the girl getting the guy is one of the things God blesses her with. If you are writing to a theme, the theme will always shape the story.