Sunday, May 07, 2006


What's this theme thing?

I consider the term theme to be interchangeable with allegory: a symbolic representation of ideas through a narrative.


Actually, it isn't that complicated. Look at fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood is all about not talking to strangers. Beauty and the Beast is about how looks don't matter when it comes to love. Cinderella is about avoiding a life of hard work by marrying the right guy. And so on.

Sometimes themes in narratives are intentional. Sometimes they're subconscious. Sometimes they are in the eye of the beholder, and have nothing to do with the original intent of the artist.

Having a strong theme in your work is one more thing for the reader to latch on to, identify with, ponder, and enjoy. Human beings strive for meaning, and search for answers. When meaning and answers are also entertaining, they are a lot more palatable, and substantial. Like food that tastes good and is also good for you.

The majority of my writing touches on a recurring theme. It's hidden under jokes and action, but it's there.

In the novels, Jack is never the one who ultimately finishes off the villain. She plays a part in chasing the bad guy, but she isn't the one that kills him.

There is a very specific reason for this. In my personal philosophy, life isn't about reaching goals; it's about chasing goals. You can't always win, because sometimes things are beyond your control. All you can do is try your best, and find ways to live with yourself if your best isn't good enough.

In other words: You're more than your goals.

Jack doesn't realize this yet. But she's slowly learning.

To remind her of this, I surround Jack with characters who all live to serve their base needs---needs that Jack normally forsakes in search of a higher sense of self.

The secondary characters in my books--Phin, Harry, Mr. Friskers, Jack's Mom, and Herb--all have their basis in the Freudian id.

--Phin values his needs and comfort over all.
--Harry chases fame and money and shirks responsibility.
--Mr. Friskers is angry and demanding.
--Jack's Mom seeks sex and attention.
--Herb eats too much.

Jack, however, represents superego. Her quest to become better, and her ultimate acceptance of the fact that she might not, are the primary elements of her character. She doesn't get the bad guy, but she tries to live with herself anyway.

Addressing this theme by spelling it out is obvious and preachy, and neither of those things are desirable in a narrative. So I use allegorical action to convey the theme.

The insomnia Jack struggles with is representative of her lack of control over her life and goals.

The good night of sleep she always has at the end of the book isn't because she's reached her goals---it is because she's accepted that the goals are out of her control. Punishing yourself isn't the answer. Which is why the last line of each novel relates to theme.

At the beginning of each book, Jack is 100% committed to catching a killer. This is her primary need, and the motivator that drives the plot.

During each book, Jack interacts with people who indulge themselves rather than deny themselves, as a subconscious reminder to Jack that perhaps her priorities are skewed.

At the end of each book, Jack forgives her failures and embraces life. In other words, catharsis in the form of the final showdown leads to a temporary reprieve from the neurosis, and an acceptance that perhaps her peers have the right attitude.

So the theme of the novels is: Try the best you can, because trying is all you can do. But if you try too hard, life isn't worth living at all.

Why did I pick this theme?

I didn't. It picked me. Anyone who regularly reads this blog can see how my quest to become published, and my attitude toward this career, are tied into this philosophy. It's what I struggle with, and what I aspire to.

I'm passionate about this topic, and hopefully some of that passion comes through in the writing.

Do you have any themes in your book? What messages are you imparting to your readers? What philosophies or issues are you planting in their minds? What are you trying to say? How do you convey these ideas without beating your audience over the head with the obvious?