The Magic of Theme

Veronica had me LOL-ing with her quips about themes sounding like Morgan Freeman. Talia had me hmmm-ing in thinking about how I use theme even when I present technical data in an engineering forum.  Katherine had me nodding about how I never know what my themes are until long after the novel is written.

But one…ummm, theme (if you will) of all posts stuck out: the themes of their novels presented themselves AFTER the story was on paper.

They also did a good job of explaining that themes are the concepts which permeate every word of a story. It’s Veronica’s “My story dispels the myth of the existence of free will.” Or Talia’s “You get to decide what kind of person you’ll be.” It’s a single sentence (or, jeez, a single WORD) that sums up your entire manuscript.

And we're not supposed to plan that out?

*The plotter in me shrieks*

More troubling to my analytical side: Most of the time, a critique partner has pointed my themes out to me. Sometimes it’s even a character that’s come right out and stated them. Of course, I give a sly smile, but inside I’m freaking. How did I not realize that?! I hadn’t gone out to write a story about society being held together by our humanity, except I did. It appeared like magic…sure, it may not have saturated every word, but it was on every page.

Shoot, once I even had a great idea for a theme, but nothing I did kept the story on it. It sounded forced. In the end, I dropped it and let the true theme reveal itself at its own pace.

And this brings me to my ultimate dilemma with theme: The planner in me is supposed to write 60-100k words, each of them in support of a theme that I can’t know until I’ve written said words.

Can you see me short circuiting right now??

How can I make theme fit into my planning spreadsheets and outlines? How can I plot my theme?

Simple: I can’t.

The plotter in me will never be able to go into a project truly knowing the themes…he'll just be surprised when the magic happens.  


I've always thought of "discovering" the theme as you go along as cheating, so the fake sly smile hiding the internal freakout is familiar to me.

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