Whether authors of fiction write short stories, plays or novels, theme is an essential component, just like characterization, plot and setting. The theme of a book is a universal idea or message that stretches throughout a work. Themes are often sociological or cultural in nature.
Some themes reoccur often. For instance, I just finished reading a thriller novel in which the theme was conspiracy theory, common in suspense genre. Fiction writers often pull their themes from nonfiction and then write faction. Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer are two very popular suspense authors who do this. Shakespeare used the underlying theme in his plays that appearances are deceiving. This works particularly well in the theatre.
Good fiction writing needs a cohesive theme to hold the work together. The lesson is generally about life or humanity and is preferably implied rather than stated outright. The show-not-tell rule works well with theme.
In YA lit, the theme is often coming-of-age. However, there may be more than one theme, especially in a novel. One way to convey theme is through recurring use of symbolism. Hawthorne and Hemingway were both particularly talented in that regard. My forthcoming YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER which will be published by Astraea Press uses symbolism as well.
Romances concentrate on the theme of finding love everlasting. This is true of my short story collection BEYOND THE BO TREE offered on Amazon Kindle:
However, even with romance fiction there are often secondary themes. My soon be published prize-winning historical romance THE CHEVALIER is very much connected with themes of war and politics.
Mysteries are about finding solutions and discovering the truth about puzzling situations such as solving murders and imposing order where there was chaos. For instance, my romantic suspense spy thriller DEATH LEGACY, both romance and mystery, explores whether a CIA agent was an enemy mole or a murder victim.
There are often socially significant secondary themes in crime fiction. For example, in my co-authored novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY
we deal with the theme of bullying. Jim who is short for his age is bullied by an older boy. He learns how to cope with the situation. His search for a murderer also interconnects with the theme of bullying. This is a theme that has increased awareness in our modern society where young people have tragically ended up committing suicide owing to cyber bullying. Even successful pro football players are not immune to this kind of abuse.
All types of writing need an underlying idea which serves as a fundamental component. Writing without a theme is like sailing in a rudderless ship. It will eventually flounder and sink.
What themes interest you in particular as a reader or a writer? What themes appear to be especially important?