Characters hook us, plot compels us to turn the pages, but the theme of a story is what stays with us long after we’ve forgotten the details. Theme answers the question, What’s the story about? Not what happens but what might it mean? What is the author trying to express?
Is theme the moral of the story? Is it one of life’s lessons? Like, Don’t build your house of straw? Or, Slow and steady wins the race? It can be, but the themes of many memorable novels are often subtle and complex, questioning our assumptions about what we hold to be true. Questioning aspects of the entire human experience. Which is why fiction is a nearly inexhaustible medium.
The consequences of strong human emotions such as jealousy, lust, and revenge provide powerful themes for novels, but quieter aspects of the human experience can be equally compelling. Emotions like desire and regret.
In Looking for Redfeather I set out to write a story about three teens from troubled families (aren’t all families troubled?) who meet up by chance and go on a road trip together. One of the three protagonists, Ramie, has father issues; he’s looking for the father he never knew. One of my own sons still struggles with this, even though he now has sons of his own and his father is dead. While Ramie’s story is not my son’s story, I drew inspiration and some details, from our own collective past.
LaRoux, the female protagonist, has learning disabilities caused from a genetic deletion on the 22nd chromosome – a deletion my own granddaughter is challenged with. I didn’t want the story to be about 22q deletion syndrome or about learning disorders, but it helped bring LaRoux to life as she struggles with dyscalculia and executive functioning difficulties –and against her rigid, conservative, but loving parents – to follow her dream to be a singer.
Chas, the third protagonist, is fleeing his wreck of a life back home, driving his grandmother’s car, a treasured antique Cadillac he took without permission. Chas, the eldest and most loquacious of the three, is facing a crisis of his own, which he deals with by stealing the heirloom Cadillac and setting out on a road trip, “looking for sentient life on a barren planet.” (This idea came from a true story about a young man, who upon being confronted by his parents and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend with the news that he was going to be a father, his first response was to leap off the porch and run into the woods. You can’t make that stuff up! Being a teenaged father is NOT Chas’s problem, however…)
Family turmoil interests me, as do friendships; how and why people connect. In Looking for Redfeather I listen in on three teens from different backgrounds who run away for different reasons. Essentially, Looking for Redfeather is a 21st century road trip story. Like Jack Kerouac these kids are looking for life –but their problems are more immediate and more concrete than those of the iconic Beat author. And LaRoux has a personal goal driving her — a goal that does not include getting laid by the male protagonists. Imagine that, Jack Kerouac!
Looking for Redfeather, will soon be available as an audiobook, read by actor and musician Aaron Landon. Just in time for your end-of-summer road trip!
Linda, I just shared your wonderful blog post about Themes of story. It was excellent.
Thanks Sue! I’m honored!