Way back when I was starting to write with a view to publication, someone asked me about the theme of my book. It wasn’t something I’d even thought about: I was writing an SF adventure story, what did theme have to do with anything?
I reckoned I’d better consider this question though, and happily answered that the theme of my novel was growth. Duh. I was told firmly that was what happened in every (good) novel, it wasn’t a theme, as such.
So I had to think harder, and as I wrote more books, and understood more about the ingredients of good novels, I started to consider theme before putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard by this point.
So when last week I had a lovely surprise – a super new review for book #2 in my Five Kingdoms series, THE PRINCE’S SON, from fellow author, Kelly Marsden (author of the Witch Hunter series, and the Northern Witch series) – I was gratified to find someone had recognised the underlying theme that runs through this series.
You can read the review in its entirety (it’s a comprehensive review) either on her blog: The Northern Witch’s Book Blog or on Amazon UK, (click on ‘most recent’) but I’m going to quote from a section from it that brings out a particular topic: that of theme.
“Nessa was… sooo very annoying and immature in the beginning, but she means well, and all of her actions have good intentions. At seventeen years old, her view of the world is very narrow; and being the disposable twin has given her an uncertain future. I think that makes what happens to her so much harsher in comparison.
Nessa and Julin both suffer various abuse whilst captive with the Tylocians. Neither are innocent children when they get out.
The abuse suffered by female characters is very central to this plot, with the twins’ forging it into a quiet strength; compared to Princess Annasala, who uses religious mania to stop herself from having to deal with it.
The story doesn’t shy away from the subject, and I thought it was written very well. It respects how serious this is, and portrays it honestly; but the writing never gets bogged down with being dark and depressing.“
Now you might think I want to talk about dealing with abuse in fiction, but the salient paragraph here, is the one that talks about the way the twins deal with their ordeal as opposed to Princess Annasala’s approach.
Have you spotted my theme? It’s Nature versus Nurture.
I have always been interested in the wildly varied psychological responses different people have to similar stimuli. In book #1, THE PRINCE’S MAN, I focussed on the way Rustam and Risada began with similar educations (in the spy game, and in their culture’s abhorrence for magic, although not in their social status), and contrasted how Rustam’s mental flexibility enabled him to embrace change, where Risada’s more rigid character kept her from stepping outside of her perceived norm.
I took this further in THE PRINCE’S SON, with the characters mentioned in the above review, but also by contrasting Rustam and Mykel Dench, who began with what were effectively identical backgrounds, and yet turned out so very different in their outlook on life, leading them down opposing paths.
Book #3, THE PRINCE’S PROTEGE, took things from the other angle, with a pair of characters (Marten and Betha) starting from very different places but growing together from shared experiences and attitudes, and I am hard at work on book #4, THE PRINCE’S HEIR, with a large cast of characters from the previous books continuing their individual developments along their respective story arcs.
As authors, we are in a unique position to create the crucibles we put our characters through. This post sounds like a bit of a ramble, but it’s my way of asking the question: what themes do you find fascinating to explore, both as readers and authors?