Plotting With Theme - Esri Rose
Adding a theme to your novels can make readers relate to characters on a deeper level and give a mythic quality to your stories, making them more memorable and satisfying.
I’m going to give two examples of theme in movies most of us have seen: Bridget Jones’ Diary, and About a Boy. Both these films do us the favor of actually stating the theme.
Bridget Jones’ Diary
The theme here is, “Look for a love that doesn’t ask you to change.” Remember Mark Darcy saying, “I like you, just as you are.” That’s enough to give most women goosebumps. This theme resonated with women so much, it propelled both the book and the movie into superstardom.
Bridget Jones’ Diary presses home the theme by having the heroine ignore it for most of the movie. The framework of the movie -- all those notes about cigarettes, weight and alcohol units – are there to show that Bridget believes she’s unlovable as she is. She spends all her time trying to bend herself out of shape at work, at parties, and in the bedroom, instead of looking for people and situations where her unique gifts will work.
About a Boy
Here’s a movie that puts its theme front and center. In a voice-over right at the beginning, Will says, “No man is an island,” but he believes that he’s proving that theme wrong. Will spends most of the movie trying to convince himself that he’s happy with his island life. But he would have to live in a vacuum to actually be an island, and the human race comes knocking at his door in the form of Marcus. Marcus, although a kid, is more evolved than Will in that he realizes relationships are what make life worth living (especially for his mom, who is suicidal), and he provides the perfect foil for Will. In this film, there’s a point-counterpoint between Will, who struggles to remain emotionally disconnected, and Marcus, who struggles to connect despite the fact that his social skills are rudimentary.
Developing Your Theme
It’s difficult to decide on a theme right from the get-go, although literary writers do it all the time. Sometimes that’s all they start with. For commercial writers, it’s easier to write your first draft and then see what elements can be developed into a theme. One good thing about theme – if you make it really recognizable, it can infuse life into the quietest of scenes -- good news for romance writers who don't deal in bombs or evil uncles. In About a Boy, Will takes a bath, plays pool, and shops for CDs. These scenes would be snoozers except that they show how empty his life is. The theme allows us to understand both the character and the life lesson the movie is getting across. In fact, let’s just substitute life lesson for theme, and suddenly it all makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
Think about how the conflict illustrates a life lesson your primary character hasn’t learned, and show how avoiding the lesson negatively affects your character's life. Make your secondary characters exemplify the lesson, as positive or negative examples. Construct situations that bring up the life lesson. Do all this, and you’ll impart a cohesiveness to your book that will make it very satisfying to read. It’ll have a theme.Continuing Themes
A certain theme often appears over and over in a writer's books, and attracts an audience who loves to read books with that theme. A good example of this is Anne Tyler, author of The Accidental Tourist.
I’m working on the second in my Elves Among Us series (Bound to Love Her out in early May!), and if I have an overarching theme, it might be, “Don't live with fear.” Feel free to let me know if you think that's it.