Quiet a few years ago, as a critique circle newbie, the group I was with would set deliberate exercises to help us focus on various writing craft elements. It might be point-of-view, writing in various tenses etc.
One month someone proposed themes – i.e. looking at and articulating the theme of our current work in progress.
I can remember thinking at the time ‘Theme? Huh?’
I had never consciously put a theme into what I wrote, and expressed my puzzlement to the group. Someone immediately responded ‘You do though! You always have quite strong themes coming out in your stories.’ After having thought about it a little while longer, I realized they were right. I did actually have themes in my work (it felt kind of like looking at those 3D pictures hidden inside another photo - it leapt out at me when I looked for it), but these were emerging almost unconsciously through the struggles of my characters and the way I had constructed the plot. Yet it was all instinctual.
I do spend time thinking about what is the core essence of a book – essentially ‘what the book is about’ – but really in terms of the characters and their journeys. I don’t use a theme or series of themes as a deliberate cornerstone for my work.
I know that some writers do have themes or issues that they feel strongly about, even to the extent that this may be one of the key reasons they are driven to write in the first place. In this case, the theme, and consideration of how to express this, forms an essential part of their initial creative process and a central anchor to their whole project – something that they may return to again and again to see if they are ‘on course’.
Do you try to bring out a deliberate theme in your work, or is it something you just let happen? Do you think the consideration of a theme is essential to writing fiction?