April 23, 2013 by KWills
A story can have a large cast, and several sub-plots. It can span two or more genres, and be set across all of time and space. It can even be a series of smaller stories, forming a series. But, no matter how many component parts are involved, there must be one theme. It doesn’t have to be profound, or even original, but there must be that one thread that ties the whole thing together.
Often the theme will emerge as the story is being written. Sometimes a writer will start with one theme in mind, but end up with a different one. This happened to me with “The History of Haplow House”. It was going to be about the fact that truth often gets swallowed up by tradition. It ended up being about loyalty, and the battle between ideals and emotions. At least, that’s where it is now. After another edit, who knows where it could go?
The theme can develop organically, but part of the editing process is to make sure that, whatever theme you go with in the end, the whole thing is unified. If the theme is “good will always triumph over evil”, then you can’t have morally ambiguous heroes, for example.
Be flexible, and allow the theme to emerge from the story. Work on the shape and weighting of each part until you are happy with the story on every level. Publishing a book is the final stage, the firing of the clay. Without strong, central theme it may crack apart in the oven.