Thursday, September 23, 2010


When I was in my creative writing classes back in high school, one of my favorite parts of literature was theme. I was that kid in the back of the class writing essays upon essays about hidden themes in different texts.

Theme is kind of ignored in the publishing world. Agents and editors don't care about themes and motifs and whatnot, they want to know if you can write a good story.

So, after delving into the publishing world, my favorite part of literature took a backseat. But as time goes on, I notice that similiar themes continue to pop up in my work. Things about slavery, racism, war, are almost always constant in everything I write.

I noticed this several months back and afterwards I began to ask myself: why are these themes prevelent in all my novels?

To do this, I had to take a loook at myself as both a writer and a person. Why do I constantly write about war?

Well, that one's easy. It's fascinating to me. It's such carnage and bloodshed that is almost always against the will of the people actually fighting it. It's avoidable, it's tragic. There's plenty of room for conflict. With everything I read and write on the subject of war, real or ficticious, I ask myself time and time again: what about humanity allows us to massacre each other so brutally, and on such wide scales? Why do we allow ourselves (as humans) to be dragged into these conflicts time and time again?

Slavery follows similiarly for me. There is a bit of superiority in this thought process, and it's interesting for me to play around with this in the form os supernatural creatures. What would define one race as being better than another? What situation leads to these slave trades? In SHELL, the slavery is brief, and is not about race superiority (okay, maybe a little) but more to fill a function. They need people to do these jobs, well, we can force these other people to do them for us because we're stronger than they are. End of story.

Racism is a trickier aspect for me. I am white living in a predominantly white community, so I don't really face a lot of racism. I don't see a lot of it, either, in the places where I work and live. A long time ago, a friend of mine who was Korean, who I had known for years beforehand, broke down before me. She was deeply upset about all the racism she faced in her every-day life. I felt like the world's worst friend; I had never seen any of this racism directed towards her. If I had, I might have beaten the snot out of them.

You can kind of see that these themes connect. They're part of the darker aspect of humanity, and I find it fascinating to find out what really spurs these things in reality and fiction.

I think it's crutially important to have some sort of understanding of the themes that run through your own writing. As the author, you need to understand 110% of what you're writing, and that often includes looking at what you're subconsciously adding to the piece as well. Why do you keep writing about what you do? If you can understand the underlying themes, you can find ways to strengthen them, and make your texts much, much greater than they are.

And if you've scoured your novels and stories and cannot find a single theme, perhaps it's time to ask yourself: Why is that?




  1. I'm also sad that we don't get to focus as much on themes as I would like to or think we should/could. I think it's an interesting thing to study.

    Your themes are kind of similar to mine, especially the whole war thing. I have the other things in my stories, but not as much as I have war. I've always found it to be such an interesting thing, for the same reasons you described.

    Anyway, great post!

  2. Interesting post. It really got me thinking about what themes pop up frequently in my own work.

    I've noticed a big emphasis on misconceptions--those of the MC, the antagonist, and pretty much everybody.