Mention theme and some writers will groan. There’re so many, aren’t there? There’s theme, then there’s theme, and then there’s... well, theme. We have the story theme, author theme, and tropes—which some writers/readers call book theme.
Today I’m going to be talking about author theme, but first let’s take a quick look at the other two.
Story themeStory theme is the same as the novel’s theme and can usually be described in a single sentence. Something like, “action speaks louder than words”. It’s what the story is about, the message beneath the surface and it has nothing to do with your plot points on an obvious level. For instance, you might have a character, or even set of characters, who constantly say one thing but do another. That would be the story theme “action speaks louder than words”.
I normally look to Idioms to find a nice pithy statement for my story themes. But there’re other places we can also look. I’ll list a few in case you might like a bit more of an example.
Story themes can be boiled down to traditional sayings.
Idioms – a phrase with a different figurative and literal meaning.
Exp: “Rags to Riches.” Or “Keep a stiff upper lip.”
Adage – a memorable, traditional saying that has gained credibility through long use.
Exp: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Or “Things are not always what they seem.”
Proverb – a short saying which expresses common sense or a basic truth.
Exp: “A monkey in silk is a monkey no less.” Or “It’s no use locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
Maxim – a well known saying that expresses a truth or rule about life or conduct.
Exp: “Opposites attract.” Or “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Epigram – a clever statement expressed in the form of a concise amusing or satire poem.
Exp: “I can resist anything except temptation.” Or “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
TropesAnother book “theme” people speak of, is the story trope. These are tried and tested, reoccurring literary devices used to instantly tell the reader what sort of romance she’s picking up. Such tropes are: the second chance/reunion romance, secret baby, friends-to-lovers, older brother’s best friend, matchmaker, office romance, one-night-stand, sexy protectors and the list goes on. Used in category romance/commercial fiction, tropes drive the story.
And now we come to...
Author ThemeRecently, I found myself thinking about the way I approach my stories, and it suddenly dawned on me that while I usually know my story theme, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to work out my author theme.
This started to bug me.
What did I really write about?
Okay, you might be thinking, “Huh? Author theme, what on earth is that?”
Or you might be thinking, “Who doesn’t know their author theme?” Well done for figuring yours out already, smarty-pants, thumbs-up to you. :)
Now, for the rest of us mere mortals who never really thought about our author theme. It's the core topic every writer writes about. The same fundamental subject that runs through all of her stories. Something like perhaps an author who always write about orphans in some way. Maybe one of her books is about a character whose parents died and she ended up in foster care. Another book might be about a character who felt abandoned because the parents were always working, and yet another book might be about having to grow up fast and look after a parent or siblings because the parent was sick or had a substance abuse problem. You get the idea, right? While none of these stories are the same, one similarity remains at the core—this character is an orphan.
So I started to think I didn’t have an author theme. What do you do when you get stuck?
Phone a friend.
In my case, I emailed my dear, dear friend who I met in a critique group around ten years ago and we've remained friends every since. She’s read most of my books and she has such a wonderful, sharp eye. When I asked her what she thought my author theme was she said, “You write about daddy issues.”
Right there, in words that leaped from the email reply, was my answer. At first (for about thirty seconds) I thought, nah, I’m sure I write about something else. Something far more profound—haha, yeah right. But as I ran my books through my mind I realised she was spot on! Every one of my books contained characters that had some sort of daddy issue. The novel I'm writing right now features a heroine with daddy issues.
What does that say about me? You guessed it, I have daddy issues. My parents got divorced when I was eight and suddenly my daddy—the light of my life—was no longer there. Oh, man, I feel like I’m baring my soul here. Is it any wonder that we as authors experience such a deep sense of hurt when someone tips a negative hat to our books? How many times have you heard a writer say, “I poured my soul into that book!” Because we actually do.
Going forward, I believe my books will be stronger for me having this knowledge. I will certainly make sure my character’s have their chance to forgive and heal.
I challenge you to find your author theme if you don’t yet know it. I bet, armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to strengthen your books and jump to the next level in your writing.
So, what do you think about author theme? Do you already know yours? Are you going to leave here and spend some time pondering your author theme? I'd love to hear your take on this subject.
Until next time, write with clarity and style!
Author/Screenwriter Monique DeVere currently resides in the UK with her amazing hero husband, four beautiful grown-up children, and three incredible granddaughters.
Monique writes Romantic Comedy stories some call Smexy—Smart & Sexy—and others call fluff. Monique makes no apologies for writing fun, emotional feel-good romance! She also writes Christian Suspense with a more serious edge.
Monique loves to hear from her readers. You can contact her by visiting her http://moniquedevere.blogspot.co.uk to learn more about her and check out her other books.