To Every Author Who Has Abandoned Themes
Harsh, I know! I’ve spent the entire weekend rediscovering why I’m a reader. I’ve abandoned physical book copies for over a year in favor of the convenience of ebooks and audiobooks. Work got too busy. Planning a wedding brought me physical pain at certain points. Moving to a new apartment sure didn’t help opening up my schedule. Writing a novel and forming my LLC certainly took me away from reading – even in the online form.
This weekend I read a physical book for the first time in over a year (to be redundant). It wasn’t the greatest book, but it reminded me of my why for reading. I love to discover new ideas through characters either more or less experienced, aware, or confident than myself. Charting new worlds or driving through the waves of a new magic system really entices my creativity and thoughts. In this rediscovery, I also remembered a few things about books I HATED for one reason or another.
This is my tough-love letter to authors everywhere. In short, themes are the number one culprit to a bad novel. I’m much more willing to forgive a weak story that had a somewhat clear message. I will not, however, tolerate a bad story with nothing to say. This is an immediate one-star (only because zero isn’t possible on most sites).
Before I go on, I want to preface that this post does not contain any disclaimers or offense warnings. These are my opinions. I won’t apologize for having them. If you read something you don’t like/agree with, attach the words “in my opinion” to the sentence and realize we’re not in the same camp. That’s fine. Let’s talk about this! I’m curious to hear what you think about this topic. With this out of the way, here’s why your story sucks through fun gifs!
To Self-Published Authors
This is a bold post, so I’ll drench it with bold statements. I have never read so many books without any clear themes or motifs in my life – until I encountered the world of indie-published books. Self-publishing is a wonder for those of us who aren’t interested in trade publishing. It’s convenient, gives us all the reins/control, and enables us a bit more freedoms (in my opinion, mind). It has also granted anyone the ability to publish anything. This is a blessing and a curse.
Writing a book and publishing it should permit an automatic gold star for the effort and time alone. However, I feel we’ve completely desensitized ourselves into thinking it’s acceptable to publish unedited, underdeveloped, generic/recycled, and/or completely unimaginative material. Particularly, in the New Adult genre, I’ve noticed an influx of horrible stereotyping, disgusting uses of rationalizing an asshole love interest, and overwhelmingly stupid female protagonists. I understand not every book will be philosophical or thought-provoking. I’m rarely in the mood to read these books anyway. On the other hand, books should say something. It should have a clear voice or message about anything. Otherwise, why on earth did you write it?
There’s nothing more frustrating than reading a vapid book littered with hollow characters, a deflated plot, and an empty landscape. Not all books need the same level of world-building. I understand this from both the perspective of a writer and a reader. However, world-building is really under loved. If your story takes place in a high school, please disclose something that makes this place stand out or interesting! I don’t want to read about any other high school. To me, this indicates that I’ll read about any other protagonist and side characters. That’s a recipe for bland, generic characters. This has to stop – if not for only my sanity.
Visiting the Theme Graveyard
Why on Earth am I wasting your time about world-building? This post is about themes! Well, glad you asked. World-building is a great way to establish your theme in physical form. This is a blanket, basic statement that will likely mean different things to different writers. Fine. But please consider this! Your environment is allowed to be a character.
In my own novel, GRAVITY RISING, the wastelands are this horrific, gritty place that feasts on the weak and encourages violence upon every living creature. To make this obvious for this post, my wasteland world is an exploration of power in the most generic terms. In short, I wanted to explore just how much an environment can affect a society. How much power does an environment really have over someone? How can this manipulate the meanings of good and evil in different societies? I have a love of sociology, so this is my driving force for creating the floating sector society (which is sterile, safe, and sustainable) against the wastelands (a barren world where chaos is normal). The two worlds collide at times, but have ultimately coexisted for hundreds of years.
World-building is the easiest way to introduce a theme in my opinion. This may not work for you, but I beg you all to consider implementing this in an effort to make your world seem more compelling. We all need to step back sometimes and dig up a few themes’ graves. Resurrecting them is vital for any story – no matter how mundane or real your world is/can be. Your story doesn’t need to incite Aristotle-level thinking. I just want it to say something compelling that allows me to think a few things. Otherwise, my reading experience is meaningless.
Explore Themes You Might Think Aren’t Applicable to Your Story
The worst that will happen is that you’ve spent time thinking about what your novel has to say. This is never a bad thing in my opinion. I’ve read too many ebooks that simply don’t do anything. They have nothing to say, their characters are void of any real substance, and/or their plot has no depth or provoking points to convey. Themes allow the authors to call attention to issues, critical topics, and subjects that may need such attention! In a world filled with political activism (no matter what side you are on – if any), I find it appalling that so many self-published books are so vacant and empty.
By exploring different themes, you become exposed to a great deal of possibilities for your story. You owe it to yourself and your novel to ensure you’re employing relevant themes in your story. In my opinion, novels without clear themes are like a skeleton (not to completely exploit the graveyard theme). I want the full body, not just the bones.
As I drafted the outline for GRAVITY RISING, I spent a few hours compiling themes and things I wanted to explore and say. I don’t want to completely give away my list, but I knew going in that I wanted to see what other themes I could use throughout my story. I have a total of four books plan in my core series (excluding my sequel series and prequel novellas here). So far, I have overarching themes as well as individual themes selected per book. This is important. I want a cohesive message, but I also want to differentiate each book as a stand alone. Each one should have its own themes and messages in my opinion.
In conclusion, my draft actually benefitted from seeking out themes that I thought wouldn’t fit my tone or story. I was able to see new storylines, side plots, and new characters! It was exciting to me to see my outline strengthen because of this! If you’re in an outlining slump, try this out to see if you could also strengthen your story!
To Trade Published Authors
While writing this post, I thought I would split up my thoughts for each branch of publishing. As I got to this, I realized that 100% of my above statements are as applicable to these authors as well. How many times have I read a book (published by a team of people who probably have no business in this business) that has an abundance of grammatical and syntactical errors, has a ridiculous plot twist that doesn’t make sense or makes characters OOC, has vacant voids (not calling them characters at this point) who trot around making stupid decisions and complicating the story that could be solved by two first graders, etc.?
Bad books exist in every avenue of publishing. It’s not fair to call out only the indie route. Trade publishers are offenders of this too. Themes can really enhance characters’ presence in the story by how they react to them or aspects of said themes. I don’t care if you don’t believe in bad books. Semantics, I say. There are bad books out there. It’s the “bad” that’s debatable – although a lot of books are unanimously hated for reasons and things.
Themes, in my opinion, are the backbone of your story. You should sit down and have a lengthy tea party with a few of them to benefit your manuscript. Otherwise, you risk being the reason I’ve written this post. Themes are a great way to add depth to your story. They can also bring in perspective, too. Different characters will see them differently – duh, Evie! It’s this difference that is the central force to use themes. The process creates conflict through different perspectives of these themes. I love me some good conflict!
In my writing style, themes are infused into the story as characters or forces against the characters – because I’m evil. Personally, I think this gives my story situations that breed believable conflict. GRAVITY RISING is ultimately about two sisters throughout the core four books. The story continually inspects the dynamics of my core eight characters, who all react to said themes in their own way.
Sometimes All the time I feel like a mastermind of diabolic proportions because I can craft up a really great scene of said characters bickering or maneuvering through the conflict my themes incite.
It’s probably unhealthy, but whatever. My point is that using themes should never be optional. I’ve obviously left out titles and books from this post. I know if I whip them out, people will curse me at the stake. I don’t want to be divisive. I want to make a valid point, here!
Our writing will never be perfect, but we should always strive to please our readers. I don’t care who you are or what you read. We all want a good story. These are my thoughts on how a good story is crafted. I don’t need a novel to get me thinking on the meaning of life, here. I would like to be sent into a brief spiral of contemplation, though. Please let me do this! For all you writers out there, visit this site to view a massive list of literary themes for inspiration!
I hope this helps out one person out there. I’d have done my job. Thanks for reading. I really appreciate your time!