Every novel has a plot, which is the story line (what happens). But most good novels also have a theme, which is the underlying message the writer wants the readers to understand. Most authors include themes naturally in their writing, but it’s important to clarify your themes and be able to discuss them with readers. We often choose our favorite themes based on our life experiences or on a particular interest.
Probably because I’ve worked as as a private investigator, one of my favorite themes is how public perception of people and events can be very different from the truth. The media (and the various prejudices we all have) also play a big part in this confusion. So for my mystery novel ENDANGERED, the plot is the search for a toddler who vanishes from a campground, but the theme is how media coverage can tilt public opinion in disastrous ways.
In the next novel in my Summer Westin mystery series, BEAR BAIT, the plot is the quest to solve the riddles of a mysterious explosion, forest fire, and injury to a young woman, but the theme is how we all make assumptions based on appearances.
I also used my investigation experience in SHAKEN, my romantic suspense novel. I know how difficult it can be for a person to prove innocence after being accused of a crime, so I used that idea for the plot of this novel, where my character Elisa Langston is accused of insurance fraud after an earthquake and series of vandalism and arson incidents. Elisa is half Guatemalan, and at an early age, her Mayan mother returned to Guatemala, leaving Elisa behind to be raised in her father’s very “Anglo” family. She loves them, but she doesn’t look like them; where does she fit? Who would be the right love match for her? The theme of this novel is that your true “family” includes everyone you choose to let into your heart.
In my mystery/suspense THE ONLY WITNESS, the plot is a police detective’s investigation into what may be a kidnapping or a murder. Detective Matt Finn is stymied by the lack of witnesses or evidence, and is very uncomfortable as the newcomer in a gossipy town where all eyes seem to be trained on him. When he does finally track down the source of an anonymous tip, he’s astounded to discover his only witness is not human. The theme of this book is the value of animals in our world.
And finally, in my romantic adventure novella, CALL OF THE JAGUAR, the plot is Rachel’s disastrous quest to reunite with her old lover, an archaeologist working in the Guatemalan jungle, but the theme is how becoming fixated on a specific goal can prevent us from finding a meaningful life.
Can you identify and discuss your themes in your books, or in the writing of other novelists?