“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.”
~Oliver Wendall Holmes
“What’s the theme of your book?”
I choked the first time someone asked this of me. I did what I do best; I read. Blog posts, craft books, and within my genre. I write Young Adult. I found themes in this genre just as passionate as any other genre. Family, hope, love.
As I read the rough draft of The Lonely Girl, I discovered not only its theme, but a few things about myself. Things I like.
I rediscovered values I give little thought to in everyday life. But they are prevalent, the kind of morals I encourage in my children. Without intensive thought and deep in the throes of intensive NaNoWriMo sessions, the best and worst parts of my personal experience,history, and quirks were ever-present. I thank my muse for this.
The heroine of my story, Evie, makes the worst decision a human being can make. She gives up. I dangled her over the abyss, a place I am familiar with. But my belief in hope and redemption is strong. With this in mind, I can reconnoiter theme, clarify my voice, and layer muscle and flesh over characters.
My characters are, after all, compilations of my inner life and observations of real people I love, have met, or even those who’ve piqued my curiosity in grocery stores and coffee shops.
I feel that my passions, opinions, and value systems should drive my stories, poetry, and articles. If I choose a moderate position, or withhold my own life experiences and insights, I fear mundanity. I don’t like the mundane. When I read a book, I want to know its author left a little blood on the page.
How does a writer convey all of this energy without overwhelming the reader with hyperbole and someone else’s rigid belief system?
It’s all about the characters.
“The author of a breakout novel must make the choice to make her characters choose; must fire them, and then sustain them, with deeply held convictions.” -Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel.
As a new writer, I struggle with not writing within the acknowledged status quo. The temptation is strong and I cringe when I see others trip over the need to fill market trends. Readers are savvy and unique. They don’t want oatmeal every day of the week.
I know my strengths, and believe a dark story can illuminate a reader’s life, long after the final page has been turned.
But I’m only speaking from personal experience.
Writers, when did you discover your story’s theme? What impact do you think theme has on a book and its readership? Do you find echoes of your personal life in the tales you create?