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So... what's your story about?

Someone I'd just met at a writers' meeting once asked me this question, and without much thought I enthusiastically started a detailed explanation of the plot with all its twists & turns. After a few minutes my listener excused herself, she really, really had to go somewhere but would catch with me later. She never came back to hear the end of it.

And why should she?

The world is full of stories. Nobody has time for yet another one. Unless you show its purpose, its raison d’être.

I learnt a valuable lesson that day. Next time someone asked me what my story was about, I told them instead about the theme, the essence of it: it's about personal freedom vs commitment, I said. This usually produces further interest & questions, and the opportunity to explain the purpose of my novel, and why I want to write it.

In turn, knowing why I want to write it, keeps me on course, like the road signs on a journey. And if you know where you want to go, you will get there.

What's the theme of your novel?

Has it got a raison d’être?

Do you write with purpose?

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Comments (42)
    • I never thought about theme, not for years. I always went for plot and characters. Now I think about it more deeply because I recognise that having some idea of theme feeds into the plot, adds layers and resonances that wouldn't have existed had I not been aware of it. It adds richness.

      I write supernatural fiction and fantasy but my themes are usually based around family and relationships. 

      This current WIP is really about families - how your upbringing can leave you damaged, the role of biological family compared to adopted family. How you can create your own family by finding people who care for you, perhaps more than your blood relatives.

      My last book was at least in part centred around loneliness, mental health, isolation, the importance of friendship. 

      At the same time, both books were about ghosts and demons and psychotic Victorians!

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      • I've learnt now to begin with a premise, my current WIP premise is - self-entitlement leads to self-destruction and a quote from Beowulf feeds into this - 'Death is better than existence of disgrace.' - these premises belong to my antagonist and having them drives my plot because I know his beginning (self-entitlement) and his end (self-destruction) and his why (death trumps disgrace). So far, this is working for me...

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        • Interesting.

          I've usually heard that it is best for a premise to be asked as an open question, rather than the final conclusion. The theory is that a predefined conclusion makes the work more likely to come across as preachy, whereas an open question allows all characters - protagonists, antagonists, other - to explore a wider array of permutations around the premise.

          I'm not saying you will fall into that trap, only that it is a risk.

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        • I've written other stuff but currently driving forward with my first novel - The Inheritance of Cruelty, because I want to explore why good, ordinary people do really bad things. Born that way?  Early trauma? Political or religious dogma? Passion? Mental health? Money? I wanted, and still will steer clear of ideas about evil but I am struggling with that right now with what's going on in the good old USA. Trying to strike down the Affordable Care Act and deny millions of Americans health care at a time of pandemic seems about as evil as evil is. You couldn't make that stuff up - O.K. I accept I'm partisan. But for fiction writers it is tough right now because what's going on out there could not be made up!

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          • Hi RJ

            We europeans fully agree...in US reality is stranger than fiction. We've had some stories in the media how people that got infected with Covid and were taken to hospital, are being sent huge bills: in one case a man who thought he was covered by his insurance received a huge detailed bill for all the stuff that the insurance didn't cover, almost everything; another one who was hospitalized for 2 months and needed intensive care, was hit with a bill for nearly a million dollars. We find it unbelievable as here in Europe everyone is entiled to free treatment and since the outbreak of the pandemic most governments have declared that ilegal residents and people without documents would also be treated whithout questions. In a pandemic, it just makes sense. We can't have sick people wandering around and infecting everyone else.

            You have a very good theme. The answers are complex but causes & roots may lie in the spread of propaganda and fake news. A recent study in France found 60% of people believe the news threads on social media but not the old established news agencies. People tend to believe the news they most agree with and doubt the ones they don't like. Selective self-brainwhashing I call it.

            And then there are several international forces at play, taking advantage of ignorance and gullibility, using fake accounts on social media to dessiminate misinformation with the view to destabilize & break down societies.

            The Inheritance of Cruelty is a very good theme. Go for it. Write with passion & purpose!

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          • My theme(s): difference, what does it mean? Do we need to disguise it to belong? Are we loved because we fit in or because of/despite our differences?

            What is an immigrant? An expat? Are these just meaningless words?

            I do write with purpose, though this novel had a different purpose to what it has now...through necessity, apparently :-/

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            • I write science fiction and fantasy. My current first series novel for my new space opera hero has the theme "Love is a gift, not a conquest." The second book in outline form now will have the theme. "Don't be stubborn and fight alone against death." I haven't sold anything before I discovered the importance of theme. (Still working on that first sale, but more hopeful after deliberately adding theme to hold my stories together.)

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