Whether authors of fiction write short stories, plays, poetry or novels, theme is an essential component, just like characterization, plot and setting. The theme of a work is an idea or message that stretches throughout providing it with focus, cohesion and connection.
Themes are universal and therefore reoccur. Often they are sociological or cultural in nature. For instance, I recently read 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. People and events are not what they seem to be. This works particularly well in theatre but just as effectively in mystery and suspense fiction.
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. One way to convey theme is through recurring use of symbolism. Hawthorne and Hemingway were both particularly talented in that regard. So was F. Scott Fitzgerald. All three used color imagery/symbolism to denote and develop a theme.
In YA lit, the theme is often coming-of-age. However, there may be more than one theme, especially in a novel. My YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER published by Astraea Press is a coming-of-age novel, a book about family values,
a romance and an allegory:
.Romances concentrate on the theme of finding true love. For example, my short story collection BEYOND THE BO TREE is a series of stories themed on romantic relationships.
However, even with romance fiction there are often secondary themes. THE CHEVALIER, my prize-winning historical romance set mostly in the Scottish Highlands at the time of the second Jacobite revolt, is bound up with themes of war and political conflict: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GY95RTU/
Mysteries are about finding solutions and discovering the truth about puzzling situations such as solving murders and imposing order where there was chaos. There are often socially significant secondary themes in crime fiction. For example, in my co-authored novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY
the theme of bullying is significant. Jim who is short for his age is bullied by an older boy. His search for a murderer also interconnects with the theme of bullying.
GONE GIRL coincidentally has a similar theme to my mystery suspense thriller THE BAD WIFE, underscoring the fact that you don’t always know or understand the person you marry. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J6PCKVW
All types of writing benefit from a theme which serves as a fundamental connective component. Fiction without a theme lacks focus, like sailing in a rudderless ship. It will eventually flounder and sink.
What themes do you as a reader or writer consider significant?
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