A story isn’t about a moment in time, a story is about the moment in time. W.D. Wetherell
If you hated finding themes during your school days, this heading probably made you flinch. Theme is not the subject of your book. It is what you want people to think about as they read the book. If you’re still flinching, never fear, the basic theme of a suspense novel is easy beans:
Good vs. Evil
There, see how easy that is?
You don’t have to go any further than that, but if you love themes and motif and symbols, you can go crazy with them. They can add richness to your novel if you add additional themes or play with ideas that engage your attention. I’ve explored survival guilt and identity in my novels, though I didn’t know it until I was finished with the writing.
Keep in mind that your subconscious will be working on things while you think you’re just writing. All on it’s own, it will weave stuff into your writing that matters to you—even if you didn’t know it.
Other themes in your suspense might include: justice vs. vengeance, right and wrong, life and death, societal expectations vs. desire…the list can be as long or short as you want. But if you really want to up the stakes, force your protagonist to directly confront their deepest beliefs to survive.
I’ll mention Maas’s Writing the Break Out Novel here again. One of the things he suggests to ramp things up is to have your characters do the one thing they’d never do. Your theme can play into this idea or even against it.
Another way to find your deepest themes is to do a free flow autobiography. The late Sally Merlin used this technique in her Complete Screenplay program. Basically you just write everything you can remember about your life, set it aside for a day or two, then go back and highlight the things that jump out at you. In these highlighted sections, you’ll find your personal themes that will make your writing resonate with authenticity.
The beauty of this exercise is that it’s not a one time deal. You can do this exercise at different times in your life and will produce different material and different themes.
The bottom line, if I can face themes without crying, anyone can. You just need to reduce those bad boys to down to size (and with it, the memory of your English teacher who made them grow!)
© 1998-2016 All rights reserved. Pauline Baird Jones.