Thursday, March 24, 2011

Do Your Books Have a Definite Theme? Well...they should.

Theme? Morality.
 What makes a good book? There are myriad reasons, but the over-riding one is Trouble, spelled with a Capital T. Your characters must be in some kind of conflict that leads to Trouble.

Trouble and conflict make us care enough about a story to keep turning the pages. Trouble and conflict always have something to do with one or more of the following Dramatic Themes:
Healing (wounded hero or heroine)
Redemption (righting past wrongs)
Second Chance
Transformation (change)
(There are many themes—these are only a few of the major ones.)

We don't want to be hit over the head with Theme. A good author will write so that the theme emerges from the story. We don't need to be told.

Theme? Accepting Change
 Most book club discussions revolve around the discussions of Theme. This might be a good way for an author to self-review her book. "What is the underlying theme?" This week, in my book club, we had read Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree. (Yes, I hear you asking, Why would you read that when there are many other good books? Answer: We are committed to read two classics per year—until someone declares, "I declare our commitment null and void."

As an author, do you (a) invent a story, which has a predetermined theme, or (b) do you create and write, and in doing so, a theme emerges? Do you ever think about the theme?

EXAMPLES from my novels:
ALL MY HOPES AND DREAMS: Theme: for the hero, Ricardo, it's Transformation. He saw his role as a caring husband but uninvolved with his wife's duties and daily tasks. He learned to see things her way, to support her, and to care more deeply.

TEXAS BLUE: Theme: for the hero, Buck, it's Rescue and Protector. As a tracker, he is to find Marilee and take her to Nacogdoches. He does and protects her with his own life.

TEXAS PROMISE: Theme: for the hero, Dalton, a wounded soul, it's Healing. He's been hurt physically and emotionally by his partner, and believes lies his partner told him about his wife.

TEXAS TRUE: Theme: for the hero, Sam Deleon, it's Redemption, righting past wrongs. He deceives his new wife, but learns that love turns his life around when he makes up for hurting her.

These themes, Transformation, Protector, Healing, and Redemption, are recurring themes in my novels.

What about yours? Do you write with a recurring theme? Or does each novel revolve around a different theme? Can you identify the themes in your novels?

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas 
*TEXAS PROMISE: The Cameron Sisters-Book I


  1. Hi Celia:

    “Texas Promise” sounds a little like Othello.

    I think themes are like language. First there is a language. Later grammarians write about the rules of grammar. Later still, writers will write according to the rules the grammarians have delineated. This is really second-order. It’s like a book about another book.

    I believe there were stories. Then some people saw commonalities between stories. They found these and called them themes. The original writers were not writing themes; they were writing stories. We are now in the evolution of writing where writers start out writing a theme even before there is a story. I think this is second-order and less natural.

    I think it may be best to just tell the most compelling story possible and when you are done, you can analyze it to determine what theme it is. I think this is more natural. Nothing should take us away from telling the best story.

    But that’s just the way I do things. Reinvent the wheel if you want something really creative. : )


  2. Vince--how did you get so smart??? I have never thought about Theme at all when I wrote. Later, I might have looked back and a "theme" popped into my head. I read about theme long ago, before I actually received my first contract, and had no idea what it was. Now, I, like you, see "theme" as something natural, alive, evolving, until the story is finished. Second order, if you will.
    Can you explain how Texas Promise is like Othello? I am dying to know.
    Thanks, dear friend....Celia

  3. Hi Celia:

    ”He's been hurt physically and emotionally by his partner, and believes lies his partner told him about his wife.”

    In Shakespeare’s play, Othello is told lies about his wife being unfaithful by his ‘friend’ and chief advisor, Iago. Othello loves his wife and she loves him but Iago is such a good liar that in a rage Othello kills his wife.

    Now I’m hoping that Dalton will believe his wife in the end and not kill her. I rather he kill his old partner. I’ve only read to the point of the trip to New Mexico. H/h are on horses riding to the ranch. I must say, you have done an amazing amount of research. It’s real fun going on the trip with them. I love the details. I was also made hungry by that 2” thick steak Dalton had after getting off the train.

    Thanks for your comments on my post. I think so much is written today about 'writing' that often the ‘storytelling’ gets lost. I like "Texas Promise" because I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I was 100% sure you had Dalton go to Waco so he would not be home and his wife would have to go to New Mexico alone…and what happens? We know.


  4. I think: Goal, motivation, conflict. :) I don't think theme when I'm writing, but in the goal--it is to rescue--to protect--to right a wrong. Without that focus, the plot can go off on tangents I might not have wanted it to.

    I'm trying to come up with the idea for my first of the jaguar shifter series I sold to Sourcebooks--and so my first thought is--what is his goal, her goal, the motivations for such goals and their first meeting...all which need to be done early on---and then? That's the fun of storytelling...never knowing where it will take me from there.

  5. I don't write with theme in mind, either. I write the story my characters need to tell. However, as I look back, I see they all have one very common and huge theme: perseverance through grief. I don't have one main character not dealing with grief of some kind and of course it affects them all differently. Other long running themes are family, acceptance, and of course creativity. ;-)

    Othello is one of the "Greek Tragedy" standard characters/plots. They say there are only seven plots that run through every novel every written. I haven't found a way to negate that yet.

  6. I just write. Then I'll put in the conflict--I never think about themes--LOL. I'll leave that to the literature professors to discuss.

  7. Hi, Celia,
    I don't consciously write a theme into my stories either. I usually start with the basic conflict and the rest comes out of that. Looking back, though, most of my stories are redemption stories, sometimes in the guise of second-chance at love stories or other times the hero is really on the wrong path and has to get on the right one. Transformation and redemption go hand-in-hand, too, so there's a lot of that in my books too. Great discussion.

  8. Celia- I'm kind of like Keena- I start with the conflict and move from there- my books all seem to have redemption or second chances as the theme. It's funny how that happens. Must be something in my psyche that likes to deal with those themes.

    Great post and discussion. Jillian

  9. A recurring theme in my books is redemption. Very nice post, Celia.

  10. Great post. I agree with you, Jillian. I think the themes that come out in our writing are those that are personal to use....either that we've conquered or fight comes out through our stories.

    I write small town stories and trust, community, and second chances always seem to run deep. SWEET TEA AND SECRETS comes out in May, and it's a definitely a second chance story. :)

  11. Excellent mini-lesson, Terry. Goal--I remember that as "what does she want more than anything in the world?" and it becomes "Goal." Motivation I think of has "why?" does she want it, and Conflict as "what/who stands in her way?"
    Thanks for your insight--Celia

  12. LORAINE--I find it interesting that your novels deal with perseverance through grief in some manner. The seven kinds of plots--I've heard that--maybe I'll look them up.
    It seems that few begin with "theme" in mind. I have never thought of it much, either, until I looked back and discovered the themes in my novels.
    Thanks for your comment-Celia

  13. Erastes--you may be better off writing that way! Good for you...Celia

  14. KEENA--I love redemption stories. Mine are filled with that theme, often with both H and H. I enjoy setting a character straight! Celia

  15. JILLIAN--I think you're writing from the heart, and you probably are a deeply caring person. find characters to help out of the mire and save...redeem them. It's a common theme, and I believe one of the most popular ones. Thanks for visiting--Celia

  16. CAROLINE--there you go--redemption again. It's very popular with authors, and of course readers. We love to see a wrong-headed person find the right path. Thanks--Celia

  17. Great topic Celia. I think most of my books themes are Acceptance, Transformation, Healing. Sometimes there are underlying messages as well.
    Hope you're having a Sunny Sunday :)

  18. NANCY--I looked up your website. You have an interest that I seem to share--without the suspense. Small-town Texas--I have one book out that deals with this type of story, sort of downhome storytelling. I love to do it, and like you, draw on personal experiences or memories. All my other novels are pure romance.
    Glad to meet you and thanks for visiting--Celia

  19. ADELLE--The story about Shane was definitely Healing, and some Acceptance, and you did a wonderful job with him. Which reminds me, I need to get his next adventure! Thanks for stopping by--Celia

  20. Celia-- I too focuse on Goal, Motivation and Conflict when writing a book, mostly conflict, internal and external. But when I finish my story I realize that, yes, there is a theme in each. To Love a Hero is about patriotism, French Peril about ancestral pride. My medical romances deal with guilt, forgiveness and second chances.

  21. I find that many of the best books have multi themes and layers :) but if there's no conflict, there's no story and no point to keep reading. Enjoyed your blog today. BJ

  22. Celia,
    I also love to write about small towns and people who live in them and use life experiences and memory to do so for realistic fiction :) Interesting blog today. Blessings, BJ

  23. One of my favorite themes, both to read and write, is appearance vs. reality, which can apply to characters or situations. For example the girl everyone thinks is stuck up is really just shy, or naturally reserved. Or how a family looks to those outside of it as compared to how it is for those in it; that's one of the themes of my first novel.

    My stories usually have more than one theme and a recurring one is ... not so much redemption, but the difficulty of accepting redemption, or the tendency to hang on to guilt and/or shame.

    Great post and very interesting comment thread!

  24. My novels always contain a theme of forgiveness, restoration, and healing. That's why my new logo and theme is Healing Hearts rather than edgy fiction.

  25. The first premise in Lester Dent's master plot formula is 'introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble.' Obviously you agree. As do I.

  26. Celia,
    What a wonderful topic! I would definately say Texas Promise revolves around healing and is very Othello-like as James has pointed out, but I wouldn't have made that connection like he did.

    With "The Hungarian" I would say my underlying theme is acceptance. Both Matthias and Katherine are looking for acceptance as they consider themselves a little different from society.

    With "The Count's Lair" the underlying theme is loneliness and how one dares to reach outside of their comfort zone to drive it away.

    In "The Wolf's Torment" It's more of a coming-of-age story around Mihai, transformation I guess would be the broader topic. He has a deep seated fear of rejection of what he is (a witch) and now he's a point in his life where he must accept what he is and use it for good.


  27. MONA--Goal, Motivation, Conflict. The perfect formula, it seems. I usually forget the internal conflict is just as important. Thank you! Celia

  28. B.J.--you're so right. No conflict, no story. We hear this all the time, but for some, it takes a while to sink in! I think I finally have it. My books do have conflict galore--I just had to learn to omit all the non-essential falderal. Thanks--Celia

  29. CONNIE--you've brought something unique into the equation: appearance vs reality. I know you're an expert author, so this tidbit is valuable. Thank you....Celia

  30. MICHELLE Healing Hearts is a perfect tagline for you and your novels. Congratulations on being such a success. It works! Celia

  31. JR--short and simple. I have a book titled No More Rejections, and she makes a point just such as this--introduce the character, then through him in a pot of hot water! Thanks for visiting...

  32. STEPH--Nor would I have made the connection between Othello and Texas Promise! But it's nice someone did--my good friend, Vince.
    Your novels each have a definite theme. Mine are sometime fuzzy around the edges.
    Congratulations on your recent Five Star review! Celia