Why Are Themes Important In A Story, And How Do I Find Them?
Despite being a writer, I couldn’t stand English classes. We rarely did any creative writing, mainly academic. We read endless books, which for me, wasn’t horrible except when they just weren’t interesting. (Don’t even get me started on Catcher in the Rye. How is this a classic?) I would get in trouble all the time for reading something else from the library during class.
My hugest pet peeve about English classes, however, was ever present: English teachers’ burning desire to always find the themes of a work of literature. I could never understand what the necessity was. Why did it matter so much that I, a 14 year old child, understand the intricacies of what an author intended to drive forward? How did the teachers know if they were even right about the author’s intentions? What if a writer writes just because they want to tell a good story? I just wanted to enjoy a book, not get into endless discussions about imagery or central themes. (Also as an introvert, round table discussions were my nemesis.)
As I began to write, however, I realized that it was possible for both my English teachers and I to be right about themes in writing. As a writer, my initial goal wasn’t to push forward some central idea let alone several themes that would ring true throughout my novel. But as I wrote the story, I realized that certain ideas naturally began to come to the surface and show examples throughout the book. So perhaps themes are important after all because they drive the story in the undercurrent where enjoyment blends into the importance of reading.
Why Are Themes Important?
I am beginning to recognize that themes are important because they capture the heart of your story. They present a moral or a lesson or teach the reader something about themselves or their fellow man. They represent pieces of advice from the author about what’s the best way to live. Themes also allow readers to connect to the story better. Without some truth and something of real world importance and connection to make your readers want to see your characters grow and change, your book will never get picked up off the shelf.
In Chasing Fae, I’m starting to formulate what my themes look like. PSA For future readers of my book, here’s the real answers to what my story stands for.
First and foremost is a lesson about the people who may not look like much, but at the end of the day are much more powerful than one would believe them to be. Don’t underestimate the dark horse. Don’t underestimate the quiet people around you because they just might be doing the most in their lives. I also want to communicate how family is what you make of it: if your family is chaotic and messy, then you can always create your own. Blood only means so much; it’s trust, loyalty, and love that builds the strongest family. I also want to talk about what it means to build up trust in someone and learning to trust.
These themes are still evolving, and I suspect they’ll transform into more clear thoughts as I move through the publishing process.
How Do I Find The Themes in My Story?
Let them come to you.
In my opinion, it doesn’t often work to have three or four ideas for themes right off the bat before you start writing. Perhaps you’ve got a basic idea of what you want your readers to draw from the story, and that’s okay. That’s fantastic, actually; go ahead and run with that. But you don’t have to know right away exactly what kind of messages you want to send to people. Enjoy writing your novel first. That’s the most important thing.
Then, while you’re revising and editing, let yourself start looking beyond the plot and into the heart of the story itself. Trust me, even if you’re not sure you’ll find answers there, somewhere in the revision process you will. They will find you, and most times you’ll realize that’s what you wanted to say all along.
And if it’s not.… change it! It’s your book.