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How To Create A Theme In Your Novel
By Bethany Cadman on November 17, 2016
We often hear advice about ensuring that our book has a theme. But how exactly do you create one, and how important is it to the success of your novel?
A theme is defined as the subject of a talk, a piece of writing, or exhibition. It is a topic.
In literature, the theme is what ties the story together. It is a recurring idea that comes through in one’s writing throughout the book.
The theme is revealed by the story; it is its meaning. A theme tends to explore a universal idea – the way it can be explored, however, is of course, up to the author.
Themes are certainly interlinked with the genre of your novel, so this is often a good place to start. Romance novels usually have themes of love, Thriller or Detective Fiction usually deception and death. It is important to note, however, that there is no reason why your book can’t have more than one theme.
So let’s get to the heart of the matter. How do you decide upon and create a theme in your novel?
Ask yourself the following:
What do I love about my story?
What do I want my readers to learn from my story?
Which parts of my story are the most emotive?
What kind of conflicts are there in my story?
What do my characters believe in?
You may be able to answer these questions right away, or you may wish to read through your work to find them. Delve deep. Think about what scares you, what makes you feel passionate and joyful, what makes you feel nervous or anxious, and what you believe in.
Write all your ideas down – they can be useful when coming up with a theme for your novel – writing about something you feel strongly about and resonate with will always be easier than something you do not.
It is always good to start with a strong theme for your book in mind. If you try to inject one at a later date, it may come across as a little forced. Saying that, many writers write their books in such a way that their themes are naturally there already and they can make little tweaks here and there to ensure those themes run throughout the story.
You want your readers to pick up on your theme, without shoving it down their throat. Remember themes can, in some ways, be somewhat personal. If we believe in love at first sight or long distance relationships or the sanctity of marriage, by all means, we can lace our writing with these ideas, but no one wants to feel as though they are being preached to, so subtly and softly is the way forwards.
Use dialogue to highlight your theme. Speech can be useful when it comes to laying your theme down in your novel. Get your characters to ask questions that make the reader think about your theme. If your character speaks passionately and emotionally about your theme (love, romance, death, etc.), this will come across quite naturally. Showing the reader what your character cares about and what their motivation is will also push the theme to the forefront of the story
Symbolism is another fantastic way to embed a theme into your novel. Characters can be symbols themselves such as Ralph in ‘Lord of The Flies’ – as a symbol of democracy, and Jack a symbol of anarchy. Or they can be motifs or objects such as a plant slowly withering representing a relationship dying or a view across the ocean representing a longing for freedom and to escape.
Themes make your story richer, more emotive and more meaningful. So whether you are in the middle of your novel or haven’t started it yet, it is a good idea to think about what your books themes are, what you want them to be and how you can weave them into your story.