Part of an ongoing series on Scene Structure.
- Power Corrupts
- Grieving is a Process
- Love Conquers All
- The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
- Fight for What’s Right
- Illness can be Overcome
- Children are a Blessing
Every single scene in your book should contain a microcosm or a slice of the overall theme. Let’s take “Grief” for example. We’ve all heard of the Five Stages of Grief. We can assume that your character is travelling through these stages. So how does each scene encompass this theme? Well, your character is either in denial, angry, bargaining, depressed, or accepting. You may have some scenes in the beginning of the book where the character is not grieving, but even on those cases, there should be some Foreshadowing of the main theme. Why is your character uniquely set up to grieve in a way that readers will connect with? Grief comes from loss, so clearly illustrate what the character is about to lose.
Another way to think about Theme is to compare it to Blogging. You follow different bloggers for different reasons. You may follow this blog for writing tips. If today I decided to post a long analysis of yesterday’s Superbowl, comparing the Saints’ aggressive tactics with some of the greatest performances in Superbowl history, many of you would yawn and move to the next blog, and maybe a couple would be interested. This is what happens when you go off theme—you lose the reader. If you give the grieving character a love interest and start exploring themes of step-families and child-rearing, unless this love interest directly relates to the grieving process, you will confuse the reader. Sure, some would relate, and might find it interesting, but generally it’s just a distraction that will detract from the overall story. If you go off-theme, make sure you have a good reason that will make sense to the reader in the end.
- Every Scene explores part of the Main Theme. If your character adopts a puppy, their grief should color the entire transaction, from choice of dog to how they treat the pup.
- Even the Secondary Themes must relate to the Main Theme. Maybe there’s a right and wrong way to grieve. Some of the subplots can explore how certain people get stuck in certain stages. They still must be related.
- Each character explores a different aspect of the same theme. They play the different roles needed for your main character move forwards. Some might have dealt with grief before. How do they help? Some might never have experienced this level of loss. How does their lack of empathy hurt the main character?
- At no time should you tell, clue, or otherwise inform the reader what the Theme of your novel is. This is for the reader to decide. You might have thought your Theme was “Grieving is a long, hard process,” but your reader might think, “the love of your friends and family help you through hard times” and never even think about the Stages of Grief. I read a YA book recently where the author put a blurb in front of each chapter explaining what the theme of each chapter was. I usually disagreed with her and found the blurbs annoying. Do not hammer your reader over the head with the theme.
- On the other hand, don’t hide the theme too deeply. Remember, you are trying to illustrate a point or teach a lesson about life through your characters, so when you draw your conclusion at the end, the reader should understand completely, even if they weren’t sure before. If you go on and on about dealing with grief and then your character succeeds by learning that Power Corrupts and he should give away his riches, you’ve lost the reader. Why go through the grieving process if your character doesn’t learn something from it, and then a magic fairy gives him an elixir that makes him feel all better?
Do you know what the themes are in your writing? Have you checked to make sure you move them forward in every scene?