Searching for inspiration for my own writing (we never stop learning!) as well as ideas for this column, I recently picked up The Craft of Novel Writing by Dianne Doubtfire at a local library. It was originally written in the 1970s, so some of the advice has certainly changed. After all, most of us aren’t typing out our manuscripts on a Smith-Corona typewriter and making corrections using white-out (thank goodness!). Still, the craft of writing remains, and there was much to be gained from reading this slim volume.
The first chapter was on theme. What is the theme of your story? “The theme is the subject of the story (e.g. loneliness, revenge, betrayal, self-discovery) and can usually be expressed in one word or at least one sentence.” The theme is what will make readers care about your story. It will tell them something about some great truth of life.
In order to write a story well, you must care about the theme. It must be something that concerns you. It can be something that troubles you, perhaps an idea that you are trying to work through, but you must be passionate about it. That passion will come through in your written words and reach out and grab your reader.
Your theme may not be uppermost in your mind when you start writing. After all, most of us get a flash of inspiration and think, “I’d like to write a story about . . . ” An idea and a plot begin to form. But as you continue to write, pay attention to the overriding concept behind your story. What is the truth your story tells? Why should people care about it? What will it reveal to them about life? The theme matters.