This week in Building a Story/Series, we’ll focus on setting the theme. Why set the theme first? Whether we’re looking at an individual story or a series, setting the theme is a critical component in the development of a story/series. The theme provides the cohesive underpinning for the world that we build, the characters that we develop, and the stories that we grow.
No! No! Some assert that the characters are the center of the story. Others claim that the plot is the end-all of the story. Au contraire, I say. The theme provides the guide for the world we build, how the characters behave and how the story unfolds (plot). Without a theme, stories become disjointed collections of scenes that muddle through to an unsatisfying haphazard ending.
So, what’s a theme? The theme of a book/series is the universal idea or message that stretches throughout the entire story or series. It is often a lesson about life or people. There’s a long list of themes that run throughout stories. Non-romance stories can address many themes–coming of age, fate and free will, necessity for change of power, emptiness of attaining false dreams, good versus bad, greed as downfall, identity crisis, injustice, or materialism as downfall. There are dozens more.
The overriding theme for romance stories is achieving happily-ever-afters (HEAs) or happily for now (HFN). As an aside, I must admit that I need an HEA for a satisfactory conclusion with everlasting love conquering the transitory hookup any day. Romances, regardless of the subgenre, have additional themes. Examples include convention and rebellion, dangers of ignorance, disillusionment and dreams, male and female roles, the heartbreak of betrayal, finding inner strength, losing hope, desire to survive, loss of innocence or love, love and sacrifice, and conquering fear or weakness or adversity.
At one of the conferences I attended, a presenter asserted that authors have preferred themes that predominate their writing which are based on their personal histories. Can’t say that’s always true, but I choose to write stories about conquering adversity to achieve goals. I’m a confirmed optimist who believes in putting the past behind you so you won’t break your neck tripping over opportunities in the present or future. Maybe a more positive way of stating that is embracing the future. What say you?
In my first historical, His Obsession (Siren BookStrand, 2012), Emeliese Alexander is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pirate republic of Bou Regreg. Believing the man she loves is responsible, Emeliese chooses life in a pirate’s harem to survive. The cost is dealing with the heartbreak of betrayal, even after she is rescued and – years later – her husband convinces her of his innocence. In my first paranormal, Into the Lyons’ Den (Champagne, 2012), Marie Maxwell discovers her shapeshifter heritage and – despite her go-it-alone and use-then-discard lovers attitude – finds herself attracted to an aggravating man who is the alpha of the shapeshifting clan.
For the new series, I’ve chosen “walking the paths less taken in search of happily-every-afters” as the underlying theme (and maybe the tagline or shortened to “walking the paths less taken”). Each story will feature individuals who depart from the mundane mediocrity of their current lives to embark on journeys along paths less taken. Not all of the paths will be easy or traveled willingly and a humorous element underlies all. All, however, will feature scorching hot romance. The impetus for the journey will be one of my characters that I’ll reveal next week.
Next Monday, World Building
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