Friday, August 28, 2009

Guest Author Gail Gaymer Martin: What’s A Book Without A Theme?

Multi-award-winning novelist Gail Gaymer Martin writes women’s fiction, including romance and romantic suspense, for Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. She has forty-two published novels with three million books in print. Gail is the author of Writing the Christian Romance (Writers Digest Books) and her latest novel, Dad In Training, is a September release from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. Gail is a full-time novelist, popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter across the United States. Visit her website and her Writing Fiction Right blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

A book without an overall theme or meaning doesn’t last in the reader’s mind. Sure, entertainment is fine, but a story without something deeper doesn't matter. How can it serve the reader? Think of Gone With The Wind without the backdrop of the Civil War. How long would anyone remember that book? When a novelist sits down to write a book, he has an idea. It may begin as people doing things, but if it doesn’t have direction or purpose, it falls flat.

A theme is obvious in non-fiction. Can you imagine reading a book that doesn’t have a purpose? Fiction is no difference. Your purpose could be to point out the foibles of the human condition. It could be to dramatize how a mother’s love can push her to give her life for their child. A novel can be a story of good versus evil and shows the power of good. It can show the power of love. It can dramatize that we are not alone, that others share our fears, worries, or sinfulness.

As an author of Christian fiction, my purpose is often focused on a Bible verse that sums up a major idea in the book. For example, Proverbs 16:9 reads: In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. This book would be about someone who has made a life plan—a career, a goal, success, fame, an accomplishment—but things happen, and the character realizes to reach that goal, he may have to give up something else equally important.

While you might not write Christian fiction, you can, writing any genre. Look at your latest work and sum up what the major theme or purpose of your novel seems to be---good wins over evil, love is worth fighting for, a parent will give his life for his child, lies tangle lives, gossip only begets gossip, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and laughter can heal. You can think of many more. These themes work for a romance, a thriller, a western, or any genre.

When you sit down to write a novel, ask yourself what you want the reader to take away when she finishes. If you can’t answer the question, this is the reason your story is not making an impact on an agent or editor. It might be why a reader enjoys it for the moment and can’t remember the title or what it was about two days later. Write so that you make an impact on your readers with a purpose. Create a theme or a message that you want to leave readers with at the end of your novel, and you will have written a memorable story that makes a difference. You’ll know it works when you receive your reader mail. It will astound you and sometimes make you weep. Make a difference in your readers' lives.


Genella deGrey said...

Thanks, Gail!
Great article.

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you for being our guest, Gail.
I agree that books with deeper themes are indeed the ones that stick with the reader.

Liane Spicer said...

...and stand the test of time!

Unknown said...

Gail --

Very thoughtful blog.

Sometimes I think we put some much focus on building high concept blurbs about our books that we forget about overarching themes and the heart of the story.

Thanks for joining us -- and for the reminder.