THEMES IN FICTION–arrgghhhh

Readmodernladytablecitygig Hi, Pat Rice here, filling in while Loretta gracefully collapses on her fainting couch, hand across her eyes, and calls for the smelling salts.  Or Nyquil.  Viral advertising has nothing on viral blogging apparently.

I thought while the other wenches are recovering from excesses of deadline fever or out gallivanting about in the fall leaves, I’d sneak in here and discuss the dreary literary topic of Themes.

But of course, being the non-literary neanderthal that I am, our discussion will not follow literary rules and conventions. Smileybigsmile_1

Good ol’ boy Webster describes theme as “a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation (guilt and punishment is the theme of the story)” or “a specific and distinctive quality, characteristic, or concern.”  I knew better than to consult a good ol’ boy about literature. Even Webster barely has a clue about a subject that consumes entire college courses.

I’ve frequently been asked what the themes of my books are, and I always answer “prejudice.”  Fits right in with guilt and punishment, right?  And really, if you look at any of my books, the answer is quite correct, as far as it goes.  In the MAGIC series, we have the obvious prejudice of the logical Ives against the supernatural or psychic, represented by the Malcolms.  We could have an entire discourse on gender prejudice right there.

Class prejudice is another good one—rich versus poor, country versus city, educated versus ignorant.  I have entire volumes of prejudice at my command.  The problem is, I use prejudice as a conflict, not specifically as a theme.  Not in my opinion, anyway.

I prefer to think of Theme as the Lesson Learned or preached or hinted at or garbled, as the case might be.  In the historical fantasy I’m currently writing, prejudice plays an enormous role—the wealthy nobleman of a pacifist country versus a Breton maiden living in abject poverty in a military society.  Heck, they’re even bigoted about their “powers.”  Being a Guardian is far superior to being a mere mermaid.157

But I don’t think that’s what my book is about.  My book is about learning to work with others.  It’s about cultural differences and how it affects our thinking.  Not that the casual reader will notice, mind you! This is romance after all, so it’s also about finding love in all the wrong places.  <G> 

So, do readers ever think about themes in genre fiction?  Am I defining “theme” correctly or am I way off the map?  (Remember, I’m an accountant and the last literature course I took was a hundred years ago!)  Are themes important to you? To romance? Should I just be writing about characters boinking in exotic locales and not worry that they learn how to get along in the society around them?  Not that I’m gonna pay attention if you say yes to that last, because I like writing my hidden agendas.  Have you noticed them in the works of many romance authors?

9 thoughts on “THEMES IN FICTION–arrgghhhh”

  1. ‘Theme’ can be a term used in a variaty of context. I’m not sure I look for one in a story and chose according to whether or not it’s present in a book that interests me. It’s an added bonus to have the storyteller give a lesson in either class, gender, cultural or ‘magical power’ distinction.
    As a small child I suffered for a fever that affected my eyesight. As a result of that fever, I had to start wearing glasses, I was barely 3 years old. Children, being mean spirited little demons to whomever is different, treated me as if because my vision was poor, it meant my intelligence was as well.
    There are still a lot of discrimination in the world we live in, and I’m sure it would be to the benefit of all if more authors inserted some ‘moral’ to their stories… call them themes if you like!

    Reply
  2. ‘Theme’ can be a term used in a variaty of context. I’m not sure I look for one in a story and chose according to whether or not it’s present in a book that interests me. It’s an added bonus to have the storyteller give a lesson in either class, gender, cultural or ‘magical power’ distinction.
    As a small child I suffered for a fever that affected my eyesight. As a result of that fever, I had to start wearing glasses, I was barely 3 years old. Children, being mean spirited little demons to whomever is different, treated me as if because my vision was poor, it meant my intelligence was as well.
    There are still a lot of discrimination in the world we live in, and I’m sure it would be to the benefit of all if more authors inserted some ‘moral’ to their stories… call them themes if you like!

    Reply
  3. ‘Theme’ can be a term used in a variaty of context. I’m not sure I look for one in a story and chose according to whether or not it’s present in a book that interests me. It’s an added bonus to have the storyteller give a lesson in either class, gender, cultural or ‘magical power’ distinction.
    As a small child I suffered for a fever that affected my eyesight. As a result of that fever, I had to start wearing glasses, I was barely 3 years old. Children, being mean spirited little demons to whomever is different, treated me as if because my vision was poor, it meant my intelligence was as well.
    There are still a lot of discrimination in the world we live in, and I’m sure it would be to the benefit of all if more authors inserted some ‘moral’ to their stories… call them themes if you like!

    Reply
  4. Hi Pat
    What an interesting take on themes. It’s strange, I’ve been having a similar discussion with a fellow writer, Christine Wells, about our core story (which you could call our themes) as a result of a recent article in the Romance Writers Report. In the process, I realised that what I thought was my core story WASN’T! I thought my stories were about redemption and, yes, they are and in a big way. But the heart of my stories is courage in adversity. Facing the unbearable and coming out the other side stronger and truer and both more worthy and more capable of love. I think these things that are deeply important to us personally sneak through into our writing without our conscious knowledge.
    Thanks for bringing up this great topic!

    Reply
  5. Hi Pat
    What an interesting take on themes. It’s strange, I’ve been having a similar discussion with a fellow writer, Christine Wells, about our core story (which you could call our themes) as a result of a recent article in the Romance Writers Report. In the process, I realised that what I thought was my core story WASN’T! I thought my stories were about redemption and, yes, they are and in a big way. But the heart of my stories is courage in adversity. Facing the unbearable and coming out the other side stronger and truer and both more worthy and more capable of love. I think these things that are deeply important to us personally sneak through into our writing without our conscious knowledge.
    Thanks for bringing up this great topic!

    Reply
  6. Hi Pat
    What an interesting take on themes. It’s strange, I’ve been having a similar discussion with a fellow writer, Christine Wells, about our core story (which you could call our themes) as a result of a recent article in the Romance Writers Report. In the process, I realised that what I thought was my core story WASN’T! I thought my stories were about redemption and, yes, they are and in a big way. But the heart of my stories is courage in adversity. Facing the unbearable and coming out the other side stronger and truer and both more worthy and more capable of love. I think these things that are deeply important to us personally sneak through into our writing without our conscious knowledge.
    Thanks for bringing up this great topic!

    Reply
  7. “So, do readers ever think about themes in genre fiction?”
    I don’t know about other readers, but I certainly do. I think sometimes the themes are more obvious than others – for example, if a book is called ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Sense and Sensibility’ then it’s hard to avoid noticing those themes. But secret baby books are often about the importance of family. There are often themes about trust, redemption, self-esteem…
    “Am I defining “theme” correctly or am I way off the map?”
    I don’t know. It sounded OK to me. I think a work can have more than one theme. Any romance is going to be about love, so that’s a theme. Then there will be others as well as that. My Dictionary of Literary Terms says that the theme is ‘The abstract subject of a work; its central idea or ideas, which may or may not be explicit or obvious’.
    “Are themes important to you? To romance?”
    I think they are important to romance. The RWA’s definition of romance includes this statement: ‘Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice — the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love’. Those are some themes right there – unconditional love and emotional justice.
    “Should I just be writing about characters boinking in exotic locales and not worry that they learn how to get along in the society around them?”
    If you just had boinking, and there was little or no relationship between the characters other than the sexual, then (a) it would be erotica/pornography and (b) that would be about the only way to avoid themes. As soon as the characters start having a backstory and a relationship in which they show love for each other, some themes are going to creep in there.
    “Have you noticed them in the works of many romance authors?”
    Yes. I think every romance will have themes, though these will be more obvious/better developed/more profound in some novels than in others.

    Reply
  8. “So, do readers ever think about themes in genre fiction?”
    I don’t know about other readers, but I certainly do. I think sometimes the themes are more obvious than others – for example, if a book is called ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Sense and Sensibility’ then it’s hard to avoid noticing those themes. But secret baby books are often about the importance of family. There are often themes about trust, redemption, self-esteem…
    “Am I defining “theme” correctly or am I way off the map?”
    I don’t know. It sounded OK to me. I think a work can have more than one theme. Any romance is going to be about love, so that’s a theme. Then there will be others as well as that. My Dictionary of Literary Terms says that the theme is ‘The abstract subject of a work; its central idea or ideas, which may or may not be explicit or obvious’.
    “Are themes important to you? To romance?”
    I think they are important to romance. The RWA’s definition of romance includes this statement: ‘Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice — the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love’. Those are some themes right there – unconditional love and emotional justice.
    “Should I just be writing about characters boinking in exotic locales and not worry that they learn how to get along in the society around them?”
    If you just had boinking, and there was little or no relationship between the characters other than the sexual, then (a) it would be erotica/pornography and (b) that would be about the only way to avoid themes. As soon as the characters start having a backstory and a relationship in which they show love for each other, some themes are going to creep in there.
    “Have you noticed them in the works of many romance authors?”
    Yes. I think every romance will have themes, though these will be more obvious/better developed/more profound in some novels than in others.

    Reply
  9. “So, do readers ever think about themes in genre fiction?”
    I don’t know about other readers, but I certainly do. I think sometimes the themes are more obvious than others – for example, if a book is called ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Sense and Sensibility’ then it’s hard to avoid noticing those themes. But secret baby books are often about the importance of family. There are often themes about trust, redemption, self-esteem…
    “Am I defining “theme” correctly or am I way off the map?”
    I don’t know. It sounded OK to me. I think a work can have more than one theme. Any romance is going to be about love, so that’s a theme. Then there will be others as well as that. My Dictionary of Literary Terms says that the theme is ‘The abstract subject of a work; its central idea or ideas, which may or may not be explicit or obvious’.
    “Are themes important to you? To romance?”
    I think they are important to romance. The RWA’s definition of romance includes this statement: ‘Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice — the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love’. Those are some themes right there – unconditional love and emotional justice.
    “Should I just be writing about characters boinking in exotic locales and not worry that they learn how to get along in the society around them?”
    If you just had boinking, and there was little or no relationship between the characters other than the sexual, then (a) it would be erotica/pornography and (b) that would be about the only way to avoid themes. As soon as the characters start having a backstory and a relationship in which they show love for each other, some themes are going to creep in there.
    “Have you noticed them in the works of many romance authors?”
    Yes. I think every romance will have themes, though these will be more obvious/better developed/more profound in some novels than in others.

    Reply

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