Thursday, December 13, 2012

Novel Themes

Do you have a theme running through your novel, or the majority of them?  Some stories exist simply for the sake of existing, like The Lost Regiment series, and they follow a group of people in incredible circumstances.  Others, like One Second After, try to teach a lesson(One Second After is supposed to shock us into realizing how dependent we are on our electrical grid and how unprepared we are to live without it).

Some of my novels have themes.  Salvation Day is designed to have us question our faith, as well as what we would do in such extraordinary circumstances as being handed unlimited power.  Others, like Akeldama, are simply stories that are meant to be enjoyed as a romping action/thriller.

The most common theme I've seen, and one I'll admit often occurs in my own work, is the theme of redemption.  It is a basic human trait to believe that we can overcome our worst failings and climb to be better than we thought we were.  Even campy tales like Star Wars are about redemption.  Don't believe me?  Think about what Star Wars is at its core - the tale of a man who acquires and is corrupted by immense power, and how that man comes to sacrifice himself for the love of his son.  It follows Anakin Skywalker from his anger, rise, and corruption, to his ultimate redemption and release that saves the galaxy.  Yes, it's a fun story, but it's still a redemptive tale.

Another popular theme among novels is the whole "coming of age" tale, the best example being the Harry Potter series.  Harry starts out as a young boy who knows virtually nothing - not even that he's a wizard - and follows him on his journey to manhood.  Along the way, he loses his mentor(as always has to happen in a coming of age tale) and establishes his own independence.  When deep enough, these kinds of stories can be a lot of fun and get you really invested in the character and his or her well being.

Salvation Day didn't start out as a themed book, but it grew into that as the story progressed.  Once I got well into it and realized what it was becoming, I started wondering how many other novels evolved like that.  Was Moby Dick always intended as a book about the follies of hatred and revenge, or did it start out expounding on the whaling experience of Herman Melville and grow into something bigger?

Further, even if we don't start out with a theme in the conscious part of our brain, are they always present in our subconscious and waiting to emerge, even when we aren't aware of it?  Lots of my early work turned into redemptive tales, and I found myself drifting towards this theme over and over.  In fact, I had to work very hard on Akeldama for it not to go down this path.  It's not that I don't think redemptive stories aren't valuable - I clearly think they are - but rather that I don't want that to become something I focus on exclusively.  Not only are there other themes out there, but sometimes people just want to read a good story and not have to worry about the theme it wants to impart.

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