Life’s Theme

We’re always happy when Laura quits juggling chainsaws long enough to share a blog!

By Laura Drake

What is theme? You can read the whole definition here, but the gist is: it’s a common thread or repeated idea that is incorporated throughout a literary work.

Why use theme? Here’s a great article that explains, but the bottom line is that it helps the reader connect to your characters. These are common threads of the human experience; subjects that everyone has had to confront in their lives.

Following are some examples (you can read the full article here.)

  • Love
  • Loss
  • Good vs Evil
  • Coming of Age
  • Friendship

I was reading an article in the RWR yesterday by Claudia Welch, concerning using theme in writing. when it occurred to me.

We all have a theme in our lives – a thread at our core we keep returning to, because the complexity fascinates us.

I’m not even sure that we choose it; it’s a result of our life experiences, the conclusions we draw from them. They shape the paths we choose to walk.

I think authors are lucky; we get to create characters to work out issues in our own lives, to our better satisfaction. When you do that, you can’t help but confront the themes of your life.

Until today, I thought the theme that I explored in my writing was one of running. It makes sense I’d think that, since:

  • My first novel was about an itinerant building contractor, trying to outrun nightmares on her motorcycle.
  • My second novel involved a woman just released from prison for a crime she didn’t commit, who leaves her Yuppie lifestyle behind to become a groom on a horse ranch.
  • My third novel was about a woman who retreats into Valium addiction when her young son is killed in an accident.

Yes, the idea of running threads through them all, but I realized today that it’s not my theme.

The protagonists in all my books begin by running, but that isn’t the story. The story takes place when they stop running – and turn to face whatever it is they’re running from.

I’m endlessly fascinated by people’s bravery in confronting and slaying their demons.

I realized my theme is integrity.

What about you? What is your life’s theme?

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21 Responses to Life’s Theme

  1. Sherry Isaac says:

    Great post, and I love your theme. Integrity. Awesome.
    It’s cool, how we have a theme to our life and build that theme into our work without realizing it. Last year, at a local publisher’s request, I put together a collection of short stories. I’d already had a few shorts pubbed, had a few works that needed revision, a few ideas to develop and a few new ideas to come up with.
    Once I pulled together 16 polished shorts, the publisher asked for a synopsis. For my short story collection? ERK.
    I already had two novels under my belt, and thought one was about coming to terms with one’s past and the other, a middle grade, I could have sworn was about bullying.
    After looking at common threads in the shorts, (picture Winnie-the-Pooh, think-think-think) I realized the running theme in all my work, including the middle grade, is forgiveness.
    Now to think of the ways forgiveness plays its part in my life.

    • Laura Drake says:

      Sherry, Forgiveness is a great one! I have it in my books too. It’s wonderful, because it’s multi-faceted. There’s forgiveness of others, AND forgiveness of self. Related, but different too. Lots of layers there!

  2. This is actually a really cool idea to think about. I’m working on my first young adult novel and it’s very rejuvenating to think of a theme not as necessarily the problem characters face, but the outcome the author helps them to realize. I pretty much considered my theme to be about beauty, but after reading this post I can see how self confidence and self love would also easily fit my theme framework. I’m always glad to read something that helps develop my skills as a writer so thanks!

    • Laura Drake says:

      Themes are deep-seated — part of the human conciousness — universal. And they usually involve pain of some kind. That’s why they’re so facinating. After all, we’re all trying to avoid it, and it’s inspiring to read about how others did it, Saber.

      Keep digging, until you find that kernal underneath the beauty — it took me years to find it!
      One of those things you look at once you solved it, and say, “Jeez, of course! Why didn’t I see that earlier!”

  3. I had to really think about this. I think change is a real theme with me and in my books.

    • Ella, in every good novel, there’s change — there’s no character arc without change, right?
      But look at your completed works – is there anything in the change that is recurring? If you can’t see anything (and I was blind to mine for years!)
      Look at themes in YOUR life, and see if they hint at any themes in your writing.

      So cool, how we learn more about ourselves from our own writing!

  4. Kathy Crouch says:

    I think the theme in the current WIP is change. Both my characters are changing I hope. I think. Great post and thank you for the idea of what to look for in our writing and life.

  5. Laura, great post as always !! I think there is an underlying theme of “vindication” for my main characters … whether for themselves or fighting for others.

    A boomer throw back perhaps or my version of fighting windmills🙂

  6. Sharla Rae says:

    I always end up with a theme but I really don’t start out knowing what it’s going to be. Somewhere almost half way through the book I see the repetition of issues and I have an ah ha moment. Maybe that’s not the right way to write but if I had to start out with a concrete theme, I might never get started.🙂 I do however always know my characters well before a word goes down on the page so perhaps I only think I don’t the theme. I bet there’s lots of writers out there like me.🙂

  7. Yvette Carol says:

    The theme in my life is definitely self-knowledge. Consequently that is also the theme in all my books, I write for children and the format is consistently ‘the quest’ which is a metaphor for self-knowledge…🙂

  8. Christy Hayes says:

    I’ll have to pull a Winnie the Pooh and think-think-think about my themes. Part of me wonders if I don’t really want to know…

    • Laura Drake says:

      HA! You’re so right, Christy! But denial is fruitless – you’re an author – if you could stop thinking about this stuff, you’d be an accountant or something! Right?

  9. If I remember right, Stephen King said that it’s better NOT to think about a theme before writing a book, but that the theme will emerge at the end on its own. I find that to be true.

    In my current WIP my theme is loss. Loss of family, loss of faith, loss of home. And at the end, my heroine realized that home is where one is happy.

    In my own life, concurrently, I live outside my country, far from my family. I think my personal theme crisscrosses with my fictitious one.

    • Laura Drake says:

      There you go, Carole! I think we choose the themes, most often subconsciously, to work the problem to a better place in our own heads. Sure works for me, anyway.

    • Becky says:

      I don’t think Stephen King was the only author to say that, so there must be something to it. It’s a more rewarding process if I discover the theme as I write instead of before I begin.

  10. Jenny Hansen says:

    If you look deep down into my books it’s almost always shame and the goal of self-love. I might bury it under a bunch of other stuff, but that’s the heart of it.

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