There are often instances in life where you wish you could choose a different path. For example, you drank too much at a work function and flirted with the married but gorgeous CEO, overdress for a picnic and cursed your heels into oblivion, cook cupcakes while half asleep and forget to add eggs. Those small little mishaps can prove uncomfortable but what if we were talking about your love life, or the love life of your characters? Would you let them lie down and give up when faced with failure? Do you give them a second chance?
At the RWA conference I sat in on a session Story Superglue: Making Theme Work for You by Suzanne Brockman and Sarah Frantz. I’ll admit themes in fiction had a nebulous quality for me prior to this session. I could never define my story theme clearly or found them all weirdly the same. I’ll use my own work to demonstrate my small lightning bolt moment:
* One Wicked Night – past lovers reunite for one blistering night of passion
* In the Widow’s Bed – older widowed woman falls for much younger man
* Chills – prickly friendships turn warmer once misunderstandings are explained
* Broken – commitment shy rake finds love with former betrothed
So, as you can see, I write a lot about second chances. You might say I’m writing the same story over and over. But during the Story Superglue session I heard the words that reassured me: an author may have a career theme – an overarching focus that spans, perhaps, all the stories they write. And for me that is so true. When I thought over the stories in my “to write pile” I still had that same theme of “second chance at love” occurring in each. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. Readers can expect that theme to permeate all my books.
The second most interesting thing from the Story Superglue session was that a story can have more than one theme. They can in fact have many: trust, rebirth, live and learn, deception, individuality. All those themes are present in my work with varying degrees depending on the story.
But what if you’re uncertain of your theme in a current story? Glad you asked. The presenter mentioned that often theme may not be clear while writing the first draft. It may be that the theme is discovered much later in the story, or perhaps clarified during edits. What an author can do then is reinforce the focus of their story during edits–layering in hints, the same way we would layer in historical detail for a regency romance. I frequently do that after the first draft is down so now I know to apply that practice with theme too.
The last point that really resonated with me was that of perspective. An author may have an idea that their story has two themes: trust and second chance. However, a reader, someone who has different life experiences, may see something completely different: shedding labels, making your own family. Neither perspective is wrong. Every reading experience is different and sometimes when you re-read a work of fiction years later you see things you missed on the first run through.
Theme is fluid. But for the author it’s not something to get hung up on. You can write a multitude of stories before you discover you’ve have a career theme going on right under your nose. That happened for me. Have I discovered why I write about second chances so much? It probably has something to do with my own love life. When I was 21 I gave up on the guy I loved ever feeling the same about me, and then he came back. We’ve been married twenty years now so I’m really big on giving love a second chance. What about you? Do you spot themes when you’re reading or just get lost in a story?