As I checked through my manuscript for any inkling of the theme, I realised what I’d done: I tried to fit every single thing I wanted to say about everything (except for the stuff I’d written about in a previous novel) into this one book. And because I hadn’t planned on this particular book being very long or meaty, it really suffered from the lack of focus.
I opened a sticky, peeling binder and found a yellowed sheet of paper with some old notes that jumped out at me:
Determine your theme for your story – one theme per story [double underlined]. New theme, new story. (Complementary subthemes are okay.)
Protagonist is “pro”-theme vs “anti” Antagonist.
Every additional (unrelated) theme you throw into the mix dilutes the power of that first theme - the one that made you want to write the story in the first place.
I listed all those extra themes I’d found in my novel and realised I was looking at a list of potential stories. Some of these themes that meant so much to me were strong enough to explore in future novels, but many of them were narrow and specific: ideal for short stories.
What about you? Have you considered writing a list of themes that speak to you and deliberately writing one story to a theme? Or do your themes tend to hijack your writing?
Elsa Neal is currently on maternity leave, but is volunteering (mostly one-handed) behind the scenes at Blood-Red Pencil. Her three-year-old "edited" this post (thank goodness for back-ups). She writes fiction as Elle Carter Neal and is based in Melbourne, Australia. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.