How To Write A Novel–Part 1: Theme

How To Write a Novel is an ongoing blog series chronicling one writer's journey to complete a finished novel. Part One: Theme.

Figuring out what I want to write has been a real struggle for me. Part of my problem has been getting caught up in the success of popular authors and wanting that success for myself. It’s only natural, of course. You think to yourself, hey if I write a book like that maybe I can get a book deal, too. Instead of focusing on what story I want to tell, I’ve been caught up in what I think might sell. And that’s the wrong way to go about writing a book—at least for me, anyway.

This past week I’ve been pondering over those questions from my last post and I came up with an idea for a story. It’s just a germ of an idea so far, one that’s still percolating in my mind, but one that I want to explore further. My gut is telling me to spend the bulk of my writing time fleshing this out, so I’m going to listen and do just that.

This particular story is about sisters, and the basic idea is this:

Two estranged sisters who haven’t spoken in years will be forced to be in each other’s lives for some reason.

At this point, the reason for their reunion is not clear. Neither is the reason for the estrangement. I know this will be a story about squabbling sisters and the juicy conflict that goes along with that, but important questions keep popping into my mind.

What’s the point of this particular story and why should I tell it?

That’s where theme comes into play. Most, if not all stories have a theme. Some even have more than one. The main theme of any romance novel is love conquers all, a mystery story—justice must prevail, and horror—good versus evil. A theme can be an idea that you want to explore or a question you want answered.

Coming up with a theme for your story isn’t hard or complex. It’s pretty easy, actually. If you go back to last week’s post and answer the following questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What answers are you searching for right now?
  • What unresolved issues do you have?

The answers to these questions will give you a list of themes you can inject into your stories. The best part is they won’t be generic like love conquers all. Those answers will be unique to you and your life experiences, enabling you to put a fresh perspective on what may seem like a recurring theme that’s been done a million times. Your personal take on the ideas you come up with is what will drive you to write a story that matters to both you and your reader.

For my sister story, I’ve come up with a few themes I want to explore: Betrayal, forgiveness, secrets, moving on from the past, new beginnings. I’m going to spend the next few days brainstorming to come up with some fresh ideas on these common themes. After I have a more concrete idea then I’ll move onto the next step of crafting my story–assembling the cast of characters.

This blog post is the first in a new series called How To Write a Novel. I’m no expert on the subject of novel writing, but my goal is to finally complete a novel. This series is not a how-to series per se, but simply a chronicle of how I progress from idea to finished novel.

Feel free to follow along and post your thoughts on the novel writing process in the comments below.



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