I’m currently taking a class on literary criticism, a subject that I have never really been a fan of. To my surprise there have been a number of elements in the class that I have enjoyed and have proved insightful. However, I’m currently studying a section on theme, which at times I’m finding a bit bothersome.
I’ve always had problems with the concept of theme. To me the idea of theme suggests that I’ve set out to write a book to make a point, or to teach or preach something. While there are a number of books written specifically with that goal in mind, that’s typically not my goal. Usually, my goal in writing is to create a story that entertains and touches people on a variety of emotional levels. While the book might end up indirectly teaching something, that’s great if it’s not at the expense of the story. For me, the story needs to come first. In fact, I believe that’s a mistake many beginning authors make—they want to teach something, so they create a story as the vehicle for teaching that point. As a result, the story suffers. You need to focus first on the story.
I’ll have more on the subject of theme and being preachy in my next post. In the meantime, what do you think of the concept of theme? What do you think about writing fiction in order to teach or preach a specific point? Do you think most contemporary authors have a theme in mind in their writing?