Do you plan the theme or does it find itself?


I’ve written a lovely book-a book about a wonderful, strong girl who must fight to save herself and everyone else from an unseen evil. Sounds typical, but that theme is carried out in so many books. Mine is different, just like everyone else’s (pardon my pun). But did I plan that theme? The good vs. evil, the girl-coming-of-age, the find-your-strength-underneath-your-fears? I find that thinking about writing a book based on a theme can be very disheartening. I have always thought that a book is a book and that reviewers and readers find a theme if they want one.

Then I heard that John Gardner’s ‘On Becoming a Novelist,’ has this information. He basically says that writers don’t write about themes, they write stories and themes are identified by critics. Yes, a writer should be aware of themes in the story and work around them to solidify a story, but the main concern should not be the theme.

So what do you do? Do you write according to a theme, or do you let that take care of itself? I believe the theme in my novel is apparent, but it wasn’t so much until I finished the book and looked back and found it had a strong theme.

I’m keeping this theme, and I love the story and book. I’m curious to see what others find the theme to be, or if they see one at all. I know I do.

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6 thoughts on “Do you plan the theme or does it find itself?

  1. While I think Gardner can be a reactionary, he does point to something interesting. Writers and critics are different animals. Having worked on both sides now, I can see that I do write with themes in mind, but I also see that other elements develop more in serendipity than in planning. Yet, a good writer probably recognizes these as they arrive and manipulates them to great effect. The best comment I heard along these lines was from an author asked to explain his book. He said, “I only know one way to explain the themes of the book. And that was to write this book.”

  2. Interesting. I think you’re right about manipulating the themes that arise. That’s really what I suspect is my choice. The themes appear and then we use them to our advantage. I wonder if anyone has changed a theme once it became apparent.

  3. I’m definately a theme oriented writer and I make sure that each planned scene holds to the spine of the theme. But, that said, I do allow my characters to develop and discover themselves as the writing progresses. At times they have taught me a new thing or two.

  4. I always find it interesting when characters seem to take on a life of their own. I take it to mean that things are going well. And following the theme but letting it develop is a good strategy.

    • Do you use an outline at all, or just wing it right from the beginning? I find that when I use an outline, it helps to know where I’m going, but that it still changes as things go. Thanks for following

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