Why Your Book Needs a Theme and How to Write it

book-theme

I recently rewatched the latest Cinderella. If there was one take away the writer (Chris Weitz) or director (Kenneth Branagh) left us with; the one projection he stamped the world with was this: Have courage and be kind.

A universal truth, a beautiful and powerful way of life. A phrase easily remembered and jotted down; a quote shared and mused over.

Writers often discuss themes: they are best weaved into plot; they shouldn’t be stated but should come out through story; don’t overstate or push a theme; without one your book will be shallow, etc. The most powerful books, that last for decades–my mind wanders to books like LOTR–are those with themes, and whose themes blossom through character and story.

 

Here are three tips when writing theme:

1. Before you write, have an inkling or two of a theme in your story, but don’t try to write it in yet. Just let the story come out.
2. After you have written out a full draft, reread it. Try to identify the themes already inside it. Which theme is strong and moving? Is there one you didn’t anticipate? Which scenes already display the theme?
3. Revise to strengthen the themes in scenes, characters, inner and outer dialogue, and backstory.

While the 2014 Cinderella’s theme of courage and kindness was displayed through character, it was also spelled out for us. In other film versions of the fairytale, themes seemed to focus on other things: true love, magic, believing the impossible, staying strong and not giving up hope, what goes around comes around, etc. But Chris and Ken chose to play on courage, kindness and even forgiveness. For me, that was the first time, (that I can remember in the retelling of Cinderella), that this theme was frankly stated. I mused over that theme for a long time. I still am. It was so simple, and yet hits on a piece of truth we all can resonate with or apply at any moment throughout the day.

Books that make you think will last longer than ones that don’t. Books that have some kind of take away, a lesson or word that you quote later or apply to your life last for ages and will be repeated and mimicked.

As writers, what do you want to stamp the world with?

author-nova-mcbee

 

Nova, signing off.

 

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