Friday, November 11, 2016
Theme as Glue
Theme is the glue that holds the plot together throughout the story from beginning to end. Plot is what happens, theme is why it happens. A story without a theme is just a list of what happened.
Without a theme, your reader will quickly get bored. If your boring, theme-less story even gets past an editor and that round file on the floor beside her desk. (Or if she hands it off to a first reader who, after plowing through your manuscript-without-theme until midnight, rubs her bleeding eyes and decides that she really must find a new profession, maybe something janitorial.)
Readers read in order to relate to others on an emotional level. They look for personal validation and justification. Of course, sometimes they want to be entertained, too, in a more complex way than just watching kittens play on Facebook. They want to dig into the lives of others and find that their circumstances are just as weird or hilarious as their own. Or just as sorrowful. But whatever they read, they want a point of personal reference. A fascinating plot is great, but even a fascinating plot falls apart without the underlying glue of one or more themes.
Humans entertain all kinds of psychological motivations for their behavior, some simple, some complex and intertwined with others. Story themes are the same way, some simple to define, some convoluted and difficult to pinpoint.
Here are a few possible themes.
Alienation, loneliness Love, lust
Loss of innocence, coming of age Madness
Fear Black humor, satire
Prejudice, racism, bigotry, snobbery Patriotism
Despair, desperation Survival
Although it's important to have a theme your reader can relate to, your theme must appeal to you, the writer, too. It's something you love, you hate, you desire, you fear, something you believe in, something that astounds or repulses you.
Otherwise, the glue won't hold.