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Themes are a big part of a story, any story – especially the good ones. They’re as important as, say, character arcs, plot development and so on. They’re the heart and soul of the story.
As author K.M. Weiland explained on her website:
Why are you writing this story? Why are you writing about these characters? What is it about their journey that has drawn your heart? What is the core of the tale? Justice, mercy, love, revenge, self-discovery? Whatever it is that’s moving the characters is what’s also moving your story. That’s your theme.
Supposedly, theme cannot be planned or forced, but instead come naturally. Theme appears in the story as you write your arcs and developments. It blossoms on its own, an echo of your subconscious. It is the fuel for your story. It is the reason why a writer writes in the first place.
Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire to explore death, mortality and losing God. The Kite Runner is look at the complicated relationship between fathers and sons. Love in the Time of Cholera‘s theme is love in all its variations.
So, why did I write The Dark Proposal? And why am I writing its sequel?
The reason why I wrote my first book is because I wanted to explore abusive relationships. Having been in difficult ones – though no where near as Claire did with Daniel – I felt like I needed a release. I also wanted to write a vampire story where the vampires were once again evil and deadly – the exact opposite of what was popular four years ago.
But did I succeed with theme? What was the theme of my story?
Chuck Wendig describes theme on his blog as:
Every story’s trying to say something. It’s trying to beam an idea, a message, into the minds of the readers. In this way, every story is an argument. It’s the writer making a case. It’s the writer saying, “All of life is suffering.” Or, “Man will be undone by his prideful reach.” Or “Love blows.” Or, “If you dance with the Devil Wombat, you get cornholed by the Devil Wombat.” This argument is the story’s theme.
A friend of mine says the central idea of The Dark Proposal was “be careful what you wish for”. He explains that Claire so wanted to have a rich lifestyle, that she was blind to Daniel’s abusive ways, and then later, used it as escapism for the vampire life she was about to enter. That’s one way to look at the argument.
I have grown so much as a writer during the four years since I wrote my first book. Today, I am focused on going deep with my stories and being more honest with myself when I write. I don’t think I was very honest as a writer when I wrote The Dark Proposal. Part of me cringes when I admit that. But as one musician friend told me, if you do that, then it means you are growing as an artist.
Writing from the heart is not easy. You are literally exposing yourself as a human to hundreds, thousands and maybe even more to judge and tear apart. It is scary enough to produce a book that you poured your heart and soul into. And by that, I don’t mean every part of your mind. The best artworks come from the very essence of the person, their heart.
So as I seek to be more honest as a writer, what theme do I hope will come out of The Dark Proposal’s sequel? I know I cannot force it, but I really hope redemption and healing would be one or both. Actually, I hope it will be the theme for the whole trilogy (yes, my book was meant to be the first of three). I also like the whole “be careful what you wish for” theme will come into play. I’m sure there’s always more than one theme in a story, or different ways to figure out the theme.
Or rather, what kind of redemption and healing do my characters need in order to fuel that theme?
Claire needs to heal and be redeemed from her mistakes and naivete. Daniel needs to be redeemed from being so evil. There is room for redemption and healing for Hilde, the Five Brothers and even The Black Roses. Even Samantha and Monica need to heal. There’s a lot of pain in The Dark Proposal, and everyone has a lot of coming to terms to do.
Which raises another question: what kind of writer do I intend to be? Sure, I want to be one that goes deep with questions and the human experience. But will be the regular theme in my stories? Will there always be a re-occurring one? Who knows? But since themes come from the heart of the writer, maybe the themes of my stories will be similar, just written differently. Or not. It also depends on the perspective of the reader.
The key here is to keep on writing, and get more to the heart of what I’m trying to say, or express. But I obviously cannot force myself to expose my heart in a story, just like a theme cannot be forced.
I’ll let Chuck Wendig finish off the meaning of theme:
A writer can engineer the theme — building it into the work. Or a writer can unearth it — discovering its tendrils after the work is written.