Friday, January 12, 2007

THEME - NO, NOT THAT KIND OF THEME

In school I hated trying to figure out the theme of a short story or poem. In my own stories, I don't see the theme until I reach the end and sometimes not even then. One reason romance novels are popular is that they address primal, universal truths (love heals, search for truth, courage to overcome the past, etc.). Certainly I do that in my books but recently I began to see that all my books tend to have another underlying theme as well. Either the hero or heroine or both are outsiders looking in on life. I tend to write about characters whose life experiences have put a wall between them and what they truly want in life.
In my most recent book, Deadly Memories, Jack is obsessed with vengeance. He believes he can't ever again have a family--a full life, in other words--because his dangerous job has cost the lives of his wife and son. He's on the outside of life until his relationship with the heroine makes him want more. I'm working on two projects at the moment. In one, Kate feels she must control everything around her, follow rules, and marry a stable man, all in order to feel safe and secure. This wall prevents her from living the full life that deep down she really wants. Naturally, hiring security expert Max to guide her through the Central American jungle shows her the way. In my other project, Lani uses her burn scars as a means to separate herself from others and prevent being hurt. And Ross won't let himself get close to people because he fears he'll fail them. See? All characters who are on the outside, who want happiness in life but fear the change that's necessary to find what they really want.
Maybe that's not some big revelation to anyone else, but it hit me hard. Apparently my stories are about those outsiders who don't quite fit in. In real life, some of us are observers and misfits because of our innate makeup and personalities. Fiction requires more motivation than simply one's internal makeup. Now that's got me thinking about a new character. Hmm...

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Susan, it is so true that we have themes we don't even realize sometimes!

I can remember my surprise when i was writing screenplays hearing from a producer i'd worked with in the past that all my stories were redemption stories - someone through love, work, whatever is redeemed - and i think i am still writing that way today!

Genie

JoAnn Ross said...

Genie, That's EXACTLY what I always write. Either a person needs redeeming, or believes he or she needs redemption. I realized that years ago one time when someone asked me to give a workshop on themes. I think it comes from all those years growing up Irish Catholic, which may explain all the guilt my characters are always suffering from. lol

Also, while they're being redeemed, they're usually stuck in a fish-out-of-water experience. Maggie Osborne told me years ago that she'd read that all books are about someone either coming to town or leaving town. A group of us at the time thought about that and decided most of our books pretty much fit into one or the other of those categories.

Alexis Morgan said...

I've found redemption is a common theme for my writing as well. I also tend to write about heroes who choose to stand between the darkness in the world and the people he perceives as innocents who need protection (usually the heroine), often at a terrible cost to his soul. This is true of my American West historicals as well as my Paladins.
I like stories where despite all the ugliness the hero has experienced and the mistakes, sometimes tragic ones, he has made, he manages to hold on to his honor and his humanity.

JoAnn Ross said...

Wow, Alexis, that is SUCH a great description of the hero in need of redemption. I may "borrow" it one of these days for a synopsis. lol

Alexis Morgan said...

You're welcome to "borrow" it anytime, JoAnn! Gotta love those heroes you hurt for.

gailbarrett said...

My books are always about belonging, finding your place in the world. In fact, the title of my first book (Where He Belongs) sums that up perfectly. So I write about acceptance and belonging.

Terry Z McDermid said...

I always had a hard time with those lessons I had to teach to my upper elementary students about theme because I wasn't sure of my own themes in a book. I also felt that different readers found different themes/messages from my stories and who was I to make that decision for them?

Over the years, I've found that I do have a theme and when I think about my theme (whether really strong in front of me or just in a subconscious manner), my books feel stronger. My theme has to do with belonging, finding a place in the world, and maybe a bit of feeling like an outsider looking in. I moved so much growing up, I was always an observer, which is probably why I also felt so drawn to books and the characters I could make into friends.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting to me because I recently tried to look for a common theme in my stories, and realized that everything I write is about the healing power of love--either one or both of my protagonists will have issues that are only resolved when love helps them heal enough to not only love one another, but themselves as well. Maybe therapy would help... :-)