Saturday, September 11, 2010

Theme - A Story's Most Basic Element

Hello Fellow Unpubbed Island Dwellers!
Do get a cuppa tea or your favorite beverage and let's continue honing our writing skills. We will not lose heart on this island.  Instead, we will become strong in heart and skills!

Today we are going to talk about theme--the kernel of meaning you want to portray in your story or novel.
Theme is the basic idea with which you start your plot. You often give insight into your theme when you start saying, "My story (or book) is about a girl (or man) who.... (plug in any of the themes below).

But first,let me share a word from the greatest book ever written, the Bible. Here is one verse from a prayer the Apostle Paul prayed for others. I often pray Paul's prayers for myself, family and friends. Today as I write this, be assured I am praying it for you!  "May you learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value (recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences) and that you may be untainted and pure and unerring and blameless...May you abound in and be filled with the fruits of righteousness." Philippians 1:10-11 Amplified Bible

A good theme contains a goal or purpose for the story's main characters and an anti-goal for the villain.
Every successful novel has a strong theme that mirrors the experiences of its readers. We want our themes
to have a strong emotional pull.  Themes can come from any aspect of life: romance, parenthood, old age, life's turning points, conflicts, relationships. Some basic themes/conflicts are:

Man against man -  "The Impostor"  FBI/CIA thrillers, Law and Order TV shows, Wars
Man against nature - Jack London's books, colonial America, exploration
Man against himself - Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
Man against the clock - many westerns, pony express, danger or enemy coming
Man against circumstances - Romeo and Juliet; coming of age stories like "You've Got Mail"
Man against progress - the railroads coming out west; women or minorities' rights
Man against age - "Requiem for a Heavyweight" by Rod Sterling

In less than an hour I found many great themes in the Bible covering almost every aspect of human experience. Here they are for your idea file!

Husband and wife join in wrongdoing (Adam and Eve, Ahab/Jezebel, Ananias/Sapphira)

Jealousy, conflict between siblings (Cain/Able, Rachel/Leah, Joseph/brothers, Jacob/Esau, Mary/Martha)
Godly person staying true in pagan society (Noah, Job, Ruth, Esther, Elijah, Elisha, Stephen
Love/hate triangle (Abraham/ Sarah/ Hagar;  Jacob/Leah/Rachel)
Incest (Lot and his daughters)
Tender love at first sight (Jacob/Rachel)
Arranged marriage (Jacob/Leah, Isaac/Rebekkah, Christ and His Bride!)
Rape (Dinah and Shechem; Tamar/Ammon)
Family Strife and Reconciliation (Joseph)
Adoption vs. Infanticide (Moses)
War and its mighty men (Joshua, David, Gideon, Samson)
Covetousness/stealing (Achan)
Women’s rights (the daughters of Zelophehad, Numbers 27, Joshua 17)

Godly woman aligned with warrior (Deborah and Barak)
Timid son’s rise to fame (Gideon)
Harlot’s son overcomes beginning and makes good (Jephthah)
Rebellious son’s end with victory (Samson)
Sex slave trafficking/women kidnapped for arranged marriages (wives for the Benjamites, Judges 21)
Poor widow attracts older wealthy landowner (Ruth and Boaz)
Fast rise then fall of a leader/jealousy (Saul)
Unknown rises to highest seat (David)
Overcoming Big Odds (David/Goliath; Israel and her enemies, the NT church)
Woman married to really bad man (Abigail/Nabal)
Epitome of a wicked woman (Jezebel)
Treachery of warrior leader (Joab/Abner)
Adultery/Murder (David and Bathsheba, Absalom and Ammon)
Idolatry and its consequences (all through Bible)
Love of a king for a shepherdess (Song of Solomon)
Rise of uneducated, simple people to high seats of authority (the disciples)
Martyrdom (Stephen and others)
Rebellious Child and Father's forgiveness/restoration (The Prodigal Son, Jonah)
Conversion/Transformation (the disciples, legalistic Paul, adulterers; the insane/ demoniac; the sick, the lost)
Dead Religiosity Exposed by the Authentic (Prophets/Israel, Christ/Jewish leaders; John/ Seven Churches Long-awaited birth bring joy and change (Rachel/Joseph, Hannah/Samuel, Elizabeth/John, Mary/Christ)
Maturing Faith of youths (Samuel, John Mark, Mary)

Doesn't just reading these themes stir up ideas for your own story or novel? Does an idea you already
have fit into one of these themes?  My novel I am polishing has the themes of forgiveness and restoration in the hero's life and maturing faith in the heroine's.

Be blessed today. I pray for balance in your lifestyle--your work, rest, healthy diet/water and READING of good books!
Elva Cobb Martin