What’s in a Theme?

Thanksgiving 5

Frequently, when speaking with readers and other writers, the subject of theme or message comes up. What is the message of the story? What themes run through the story? What does the story say about the human condition?

Themes are not always blatant or obvious. If they are, it may be because the author is more interested in pushing an agenda than in telling a compelling story.

For me, themes and messages work best when they are woven into how the characters think, act, and speak. The reader discovers the themes as the characters live them out in the story.

One of my favorite fictional characters is LA police detective Harry Bosch, created by Michael Connelly. One of the themes of Harry’s life can be summed up in the statement, “Everybody counts or nobody counts.” In Harry’s worldview, every murder victim, no matter how sleazy they may have been, deserves justice. And every murderer, no matter how well connected or how justified they believe they are, equally deserves to be brought to justice.

I’m no philosopher or theologian. I write what the Lord puts on my heart. I endeavor to let him guide my thoughts and my fingers so the words I put on the page are the ones he wants, ones that honor him.

In my first novel, Journey to Riverbend, the hero, Michael Archer, journeys on several levels. There is the physical journey from Missouri to the fictional town of Riverbend. And there’s the physical journey he takes with the posse.

As challenging as the physical aspects are, Michael experiences deep emotional and spiritual journeys also, journeys that affect him in profound ways.

Emotionally, he travels down a path he never expected to experience and doesn’t believe he deserves—falling in love with a woman. The fact that she’s feisty and independent Rachel Stone takes the journey along the edge of a sheer cliff.

Spiritually, Michael confronts the demon he has battled since he was thirteen when he stabbed his father with a pitchfork. He believes there is an evil force inside him. A force he can’t control, a force he believes keeps him from being the man he thinks he should be. This force appears early in the story when he confronts the town bully. It rumbles just below the surface throughout the novel until he is faced with the ultimate moral choice of having to take someone’s life in order to save someone else.

By the end of the story, we see the themes of Michael’s journeys. He is redeemed and restored as he faces his demons and realizes they do not control him. With this restoration, he is able to step onto a new path of loving someone and being worthy of receiving love himself.

Which books have you read where the themes resonated with you as a reader and a person?





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