Theme – the most important part of writing! Theme is your argument, your central idea, your subject matter, your tune.
For me it doesn’t matter how well you write, if your theme is boring, if your story is about an afternoon in an apartment, as your hero argues with himself about whether to make dinner for his wife, I’m just not that interested.
Ok, I’ll read two pages if your prose totally sparkles, but I’ll soon lose interest. Shiny, glistening literary baubles lack substance for me. I want a strong theme.
But, you say, other people may be interested in that apartment story. And you’re right. Theme is personal. Which brings us to the central point of theme, it’s all about choice. What you love, I may hate! The key is, for a theme to carry a novel, it must be universal, something that every reader can relate to, it must strengthen and deepen your story.
And theme is affected by genre too. Crime fiction, thrillers, erotic fiction, romance, fantasy, science fiction, they all embody strong themes at their core.
A strong theme makes a book more commercial. If you write and extend one of the popular modern genres listed above, have a great story and core values, you are more likely to excite a publisher. Publishers want to publish books that people are more likely to buy. And they have found out, over many years, that books written with strong themes – about love, loss, betrayal, about triumphing over the odds, about lies or greed for instance, sell well and then some more.
Literary fiction is experiencing a resurgence in interest, perhaps as a backlash to the wash of commercial fiction that became available during the boom years. Literary fiction, like genre fiction, generally has strong themes, and to sell well must be about great story.
For all those who retain a desire to get published, think long and hard about your theme. If you truly do write uncannily well, you may pull off that story about an afternoon in an apartment, but if you read genre fiction yourself, focus on your theme, please! And extend the theme, make it sing, like that old canary never sang before!
This post is the third exploring the world of getting your writing noticed that will be published over four weeks in the run up to the launch of The Jerusalem Puzzle on ebook Dec 3 and in paperback in January. Here is a link to the previous post in this series, on grabbing your reader’s attention. And here is a link to the next post, on pace, what keeps us reading.
Next week I will cover how writing is changing in the 21st century. I hope you enjoy this series.