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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What Are You Talking About?- The Importance of Theme in Your Novel

This weekend I was finally able to watch Ender’s Game. I’d read good things about it and wanted to watch it because I love sci-fi but it’s so hard to find ones that aren’t weird or don’t have any questionable content. And, Ender’s Game didn’t disappoint.

However, by the end of the movie, I realized that this was no ordinary sci-fi movie. In fact, I would go so far as to say it was the best sci-fi movie I have ever seen in my entire life. It was deep, powerful, and thought-provoking.

And, it got me thinking about YA fiction (doesn’t everything? :P)

Part of the reason Ender’s Game is so good is the fact that its message is clear and well portrayed. It has a theme that the author obviously holds very deeply. What makes it so powerful, is the fact that the message is a passion of the author’s. He had something to say, he wasn’t just going along with what everyone else in sci-fi was.

Which leads me to dystopian fiction. Being part of a young writers’ forum, I get to see hundreds of novels and story ideas in the making. And, by far one of the most common thing I see in ideas is a totalitarian government trying to control everyone and a group of people who refuse to be controlled.

Which is all well and good, I suppose. But, are people writing that because they actually hold that to be an issue they feel needs addressing? Or, are they simply going along with what everyone else is writing.

Dystopian simply means the opposite of Utopian. It doesn’t say anything about totalitarian governments or rebels. There are so many other options out there. Are we as writers limiting ourselves because we fall into the trap of what is popular?

I know I have fallen prey to this. I write what I see around me even if it’s not necessarily what I believe. I don’t actually think the government is going to take over in the way it is portrayed in ninety percent of dystopian novels. But, that doesn’t stop me from writing it.

The other problem I see, is that young writers are afraid of preaching so they shy away from having a theme in their story. Ender’s Game wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful if it didn’t have a theme. I think most of the popular YA novels are so popular because the author isn’t just telling a story, they’re also trying to say something.

Whether you’re writing dystopian or not, are you truly writing about things dear to your heart? Or are you writing what you think people want you to? Are you unintentionally copying someone else’s idea or writing about an idea you feel is a real issue?

Because, people who say a book doesn’t need a message are wrong. A story might not have one solid theme throughout, but it still has to have a message. The reader needs something to take away. Even if it’s just something simple like “never give up.”

Writers are losing ground as shapers of humanity. And, it’s our own fault. We’re so focused on the story that we forget about the message. We unintentionally go with the flow of popular writing until we sacrifice the voices our writing has given us.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure you are giving your readers something to take away. YA fiction is so full of stories that end hopeless. And that is wrong. As a writer, it is our job to give our readers hope. We need to tell them something.

People turn to books for answers, whether they know it or not. Even when they say they are just looking for entertainment, there is a part of them that wants to walk away with something. Readers want to be changed by the stories they read.

And we, as writers, have a responsibility to make sure we are giving our readers that chance.

So, next time you’re outlining a new story idea, don’t forget to make sure you have something to say. Oh, and make sure you watch Ender’s Game.

How about you? Do you make a point of adding themes to your stories or tend to write what is popular? What is the theme of your favorite novel or movie?

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