With Guest Melanie Dickerson.
Theme has always been one of those ethereal aspects of story that I wasn’t too sure I even understood, let alone something I could plan and/or harness to make my story more powerful. Lately I’ve been realizing that theme is something I should be paying a lot more attention to. But what is theme?
Here is the definition I like best from Merriam-Webster: Theme is an idea, ideal, or orienting principle that is dominant or persistent.
In other words, theme is a dominant principle that shows up persistently in a story. The more stories I write, the more I want each one to stand out and to make a powerful impression on my readers. And I’ve been wondering if I might be able to intentionally weave theme throughout my story.
Now, I’m still figuring this out. In fact, the reason I volunteered to write my blog post on theme was because I wanted to learn more about it and figure out how to do a better job of incorporating theme into my stories.
I’ve been reading a book called Writing Subtext: How to craft subtext that develops characters, boosts suspense, and reinforces theme by Elizabeth Lyon. I realize that most of the things she talks about I am already doing, but not intentionally.
To be honest, I was never very good at figuring out the theme and underlying meaning behind poetry or classic novels. I guess I tend to think in literal terms. And it makes me upset when “experts” interpret a poem or story to mean something I don’t think the author ever intended—or when reviewers read something into my own novels that I never intended. So how can we make sure our readers don’t miss the theme of our novels, experience it in a deep and meaningful way, and yet, avoid beating them over the head with it?
James Scott Bell and Donald Maass, both a lot smarter and more experienced than I am, have talked about the fact that, if you do the work of developing your characters and your plot, theme will naturally emerge. But what can you do to reinforce it? And should you even try?
In my Beauty and the Beast story,The Merchant’s Daughter, one of the themes that naturally emerged was the theme of inner beauty and that it was possible to love someone in spite of their outward appearance. The main characters and plot epitomize this theme, as the hero was disfigured in an accident when he was younger and didn’t believe any woman, especially a beautiful woman, could ever love him.
But I also had a secondary character who reinforced it. Stephen was the heroine’s good friend from childhood, and she loved him. Her friendship type of love was not hampered in the least by Stephen’s cerebral palsy, which caused him to walk in a way that was noticeably different from everyone else. But if I had wanted to be even more intentional about reinforcing the theme, I might have spent a little more time exploring Stephen and his experiences and interactions with other characters. I also could have had one of the characters mention the theme in dialogue.
I came up with three ways theme might be reinforced:
2. An object that symbolizes the theme
However, I also got to thinking that this sort of reinforcement of theme could easily become overdone and seem heavy-handed. My conclusion is that, as the author, I need to be aware of the theme of my book, whether it’s while I’m writing the first draft, before I even start writing, or after I’m done, when I’m revising. During the revision process, I need to reinforce theme, but I should be careful not to overdo it. Let the story itself convey the theme, let the characters come to grips with the theme, but don’t preach the theme to the reader.
Two principles of good writing: 1. Trust the reader to “get it,” and 2. Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE).
Another theme I have used in my novels is that we allow social status to affect our identity and feelings of self-worth, but our self-worth should be based on how God sees us. Looking back on some of my books, I think I could have focused in on this theme and made it more impactful if I had been more aware of it. I might have highlighted this theme through the use of subplots and secondary characters struggling with this issue. I might have had a character make a statement in dialogue that would have encapsulated the theme so succinctly that it would have been an “Ah-ha!” moment for both the POV (point of view) character and the reader.
I’m still figuring out how to reinforce my themes, but I do think, from now on, I will definitely try to identify my theme as early in the process as possible. In fact, I recently identified the theme of my three-book series that I’m still plotting. I haven’t even started the first draft of the first book, but already I’m excited about the ways I’ll be able to highlight this theme, and the variations of the theme that will emerge with each of the three books.
Discussion time! Have you identified the theme of your current writing project? What are some ways you might reinforce this theme to create a powerful “ah-ha” moment for your characters and your reader? How can we avoid “preachy-ness” and still enhance theme?
Melanie Dickerson is the author of Young Adult fairy tale retellings set in Medieval Europe: The Healer’s Apprentice, The Merchant’s Daughter, The Fairest Beauty, and The Captive Maiden. Her fifth novel, The Princess Spy, releases in November. Published with Harper Collins Christian Publishing, she is a two-time Christy Award finalist and winner of the Carol Award in the Young Adult category and the National Readers Choice Award for Best First Book. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from The University of Alabama and lives in north Alabama with her husband, two book-loving daughters, and two cute-but-incontinent R.O.U.S.s, also known as guinea pigs, named Cecily and Rue.
You can connect with Melanie through facebook, https://www.facebook.com/MelanieDickersonBooks, twitter, https://twitter.com/melanieauthor, and her website, www.MelanieDickerson.com.
Today Melanie is generously giving away a copy of The Captive Maiden to one Seekerville commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition. And here's a special treat..CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO OF MELANIE reading from The Captive Maiden.
The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson.
Happily Ever After …Or Happily Nevermore?
Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela learns the duke’s son, Valten---the boy she has daydreamed about for years---is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.
|It's not too late to Speedbo...|