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Laurence O’Bryan on Theme & Genre

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Laurence O'Bryan

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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.


About the author

Laurence O’Bryan went to school in south Dublin, drank way too much, studied business, then IT. While a student, he worked as a kitchen porter and lived a rollercoaster existence.

After that he spent ten years working in London. He met his wife there. Soon after their daughter was born they came back to Dublin. That was in the year 2000. He worked in IT marketing for many years and was made redundant last year, just in time for the publication of The Istanbul Puzzle. That novel has now been shortlisted for Ireland AM Irish Crime Novel of 2012 and translated into 9 languages.
The Istanbul Puzzle is his first novel to be published. The Jerusalem Puzzle, his second, is coming out January 31 2013 in paperback and Dec 3 2012 in ebook.
In 2007 he won the Outstanding Novel award at the Southern California writer’s conference. That winning novel, on which he worked for six years, became The Istanbul Puzzle. He is a member of the UK Crime Writer’s Association, the Irish Writing Centre, two “live” writing groups in Dublin and online writing communities including Writing.ie. His research takes him all over the world and he still thoroughly enjoys looking at the stars and listening to the stories of strangers.
His website/blog is: www.lpobryan.com
His Twitter name: @LPOBryan

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