As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day.
I get asked questions like this sometimes: What makes a book great? What’s the most important thing for a fiction book to have?
I will see plenty of answers, some are obvious, like a good plot. Other answers say good characters. I try to always answer the same thing. What makes a story great is when the author believes in their theme. The theme is the truth that’s proved by the story. To me, the writer has to passionately believe in that truth. If they do, everything else should follow. They will take the time and make the effort to develop life-like characters and an engaging conflict to drive the plot. How this conflict is resolved says everything about who the writer is.
The best stories that I have written are the ones that have a theme I believe in. I don’t always start with the theme, but I keep it in mind when I’m plotting. Whenever I am faced with a choice of how the story will go, I refer to the story’s theme for direction.
I have a story idea for my November novel. A little girl is left at a mountain fortress to be raised by holograms. Okay, I had a premise and a title, The Snowdrop Princess. But what was actually going to happen in the story? How much of this was going to be based on the story I told my kids years ago? I needed a theme.
I had some ideas for what would happen in the story. God forgive me for jumping on the dystopian genre bandwagon, but the story is in a future where the government is rebuilding after a collapse of civilization. This government wants to create a prison that’s humane, but safe. Why not have it guarded by holograms? In fact, history shows that there is a mountain fortress populated by nothing but holograms.
I can see a complicated conflict here. It needs a lot of development still. And my theme, what truth do I believe in that I want this story to prove? What will be the DNA of this story’s structure?
It’s times like this I wish I could take a sabbatical like last year, where I went out to the desert, scores of miles away from another human being. I had notebooks and pens and I sat and worked on Sidewinder. That turned into a pretty good first draft and it’s on its way to becoming a good novel. Is there magic in a sabbatical?
Well, yes. But it’s just not possible this year. And while there is mojo in a sabbatical, I can dig it up elsewhere. And I did. I know my theme.
Like I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s writing, I had a story opening in mind that led me to want to write The Snowdrop Princess as my November novel. Then, two nights ago, something came to me, and now I’ve got a choice to make. I thought of a story opening I wrote a few years ago, not knowing where to take it. I thought someday I would use it for a November novel. And the other night I realized it keeps with my theme more than the other idea I had.
On a different note to anyone who reads this: Thank you for indulging me these “cliffhangers” as I end uncertainly like this so often. It’s not to draw readers back. It’s to draw me back to writing tomorrow. And thank you, too, for reading. Your support is encouraging.