Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Themes and Story Premise in Novel Writing

Last week when I was asked what I was posting about today, I blurted out "themes", because 1) I didn't know what to post about, and 2) I have been thinking about the theme for my new WIP I am getting close to starting and figured I might have something to say about it. But now that I am sitting in front of the computer - the day before the post goes up - I am not really sure what to say about theme. Actually, there is not much to say.

Dictionary.com defines theme as: a unifying or dominant idea.

Every story has a theme or idea that moves the story forward. A good way to flesh out a theme is by the story premise...the "what if" question that drives the plot through to the end. Let's take a look at some examples and see if you can guess the movie.

1) What if a man falls in love with the woman who is carrying his beloved dead wife's heart?
2) What if a woman gets engaged, but must first get her husband, who she hasn't seen in 10 years, to sign divorce papers?
3) What if a child was left at home during Christmas and had to defend the house against burglars?
4) What if the rightful king was imprisoned behind a mask for most of his life?
5) What if a group of maids got together and wrote a book about their experiences - no matter the cost?

Okay, let's see how you did. The answers are:

1) Return to Me - unending love and second chances
2) Sweet Home Alabama - forgiveness and second chances
3) Home Alone - finding meaning in survival and understanding real love in family
4) Behind the Iron Mask - honor and integrity wins over lies and betrayal
5) The Help - the truth shall set you free

I like to think of themes as the underlying message you want to get across in your book. The "what if" question helps to hone the theme into your story's premise. It is the meat on the bone, so to speak. The icing on the cake. The ice cream on the cone. The cream in your coffee....okay, so I digress.

So you see, there is not much to a theme or story premise, but they are an oh-so-important aspect of your writing and your story.

Tell me...what is your story's theme and story premise? If you are not a writer, what is your favorite movie or book's theme and story premise?

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is wife to "Pastor John" and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.


Naomi Rawlings said...

Forgiveness for my first book, family for my WIP. Don't ask me to get more specific than that. I'm not sure I could since I test the themes from several different angles.

Themes are one of the things that I don't feel like I really grasp, just have a vague knowledge of.

Lynda Lee Schab said...

Great post.

The theme for my first novel, Mind over Madi, is trust. Madi's trust in her marriage and in God. It also has a "princess" theme throughout. I had fun with that - lots of Disney princesses referenced - as Madi comes to term with the fact that she is a princess-no matter how many dumb things she does. :-)

I'm working on the second book in the series, Madily in Love, and I would say the theme is Romance (the tag is "Madi wants to fall madly in love...with her husband") because it centers on revitalizing the romance in Madi's marriage. But is "romance" really a theme? I supposed it's also about peace, as she struggles to find a spare moment to actually experience the romance among her completely chaotic and crazy life.

Beth K. Vogt said...

You did a great job with this post, Sherrinda. Appreciated the movie examples.
For my WIP, my theme is "What do you do if (when) life doesn't turn out the way you planned?"
And I'll leave it at that.

Jeanne T said...

Fun post, Sherrinda. The theme for my wip is trust. My premise (I think this could qualify as a premise) is: Can a woman fall in love with her husband while in the arms of another man?

Susan Anne Mason said...

Good topic, Sherrinda. Love your name, btw!

I find a lot of themes like redemption, forgiveness,& unworthiness, running through most of my work. Love reading those types of books too!


Anonymous said...

Naomi, I totally understand the whole "not grasping" the idea of theme. It is one of those vague concepts that is hard for me to wrap my brain around.

And really, I like the idea of a one word theme. Forgiveness is a great theme, as well as family. Way to go!

Anonymous said...

Oh Lynda, I love the themes of your books! Princess!!!! Doesn't get much better than that, does it? We all want to be a princess...and we all feel like we fall short. I need to grab your book! :)

Anonymous said...

Beth, I love your theme! Many of us can relate to life not being what we thought it'd be. I'd love to see how you took the them and wove a story around it.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Jeanne, oooooohhhh! I am so intrigued by your theme and premise...which go GREAT together, btw. I bet your story has a lot of ups and downs in it...great conflict, I'm sure! :)

Anonymous said...

Susan, isn't it something to find similar themes running throughout our work? I tend to think in terms of freedom and can usually find that thread running through. Your themes are solid and the kind that build up our faith.

And as for my name, it is a "compromise". Mom liked Sherry and Dad liked Linda, and so they just stuck it together. :)

Casey said...

I love the 'what if' question, until I need to come up with one for my own story. :-/

What if a young widow falls in love with her husband's caretaker before he has even died?

Not very pithy, but there you go. :)

JoAnne Potter said...

Yikes! I hammered this into students for years and almost forgot to apply it to my own WIP!

How about: What if someone invested their whole life and career in a man they believed just and noble only to find he had fatal flaw caused by his very humanity?