So I’m sure everyone reading this has had an English class where they were instructed to find the themes in some grand piece of literature. I’m also sure most of us rolled our eyes and went about BSing the paper as best as we could.
Outside of actual literature writers, most authors aren’t actually trying to put themes in their books. I’m what is disparagingly referred to as a ‘genre writer’ – I write SF and Fantasy, exclusively. I don’t put any deep themes in my work.
Intentionally. And that’s the key to today’s post. Outside of ‘literature,’ my opinion of which is not something I’m going to divulge in public, most authors are not focusing on writing their themes. Some are, and this is a good thing. While I don’t write it, and probably wouldn’t read it, the presence of meaningful theme-filled work in genre fiction is whats needed to make that description not a dirty word.
But the rest of us? Who write, but aren’t intentionally putting themes in our work? What we need to do is be aware of the themes we ARE putting in our work. They’re there, no matter how unintentional they are. To pick an example, Robert Heinlein. His major intended theme was the progress mankind could make if we tried, and the way that would change us. Tied more subtly, less intentionally most likely, but still there are themes drawn from his own political and personal beliefs. There are trends of sexual deviancy, racism and misogyny all through Heinlein’s books, which do get worse as you get towards his later works. These are his unintended themes, and I think make a good example of why we should be aware of them.
Whether we intend for them to be there or not, most stories have themes in them. Recognizing that they exist, realizing what themes you tend to use, and either using or moving away from those themes are appropriate for the story is important.
For example, I find through most of my stories there are themes of duty and sacrifice in the service of others. This was not, in most cases, intentional. It is mostly a side effect of the kind of stories I tend to write, though I’m sure its very possible to write even military SF in a way that can subvert these. Being aware of these themes, I intentionally work them in a bit more than I might have unintentionally, but its only extending what would be there regardless.
Be aware of your themes. Don’t go out of way to change them, but never assume they don’t exist just because you didn’t mean to have any!