Thursday, June 5, 2008

Revising the Novel - Back to Theme part 2

So the real question then, is what is your book about?

You can write a story about a doctor who solves a mass murder case at her hospital, but underneath the story, if you look hard, you'll probably find a deeper message or idea running through. This is the theme, at least in the way I use the word.

Now, after you've finished your first draft, poured your heart and soul out onto the paper (or as I heard it referred to once,"breaking open the bones to find the marrow") it's time to take a look back at what you've done. Most authors recommend a cooling off period, which I agree with. Stephen King recommends six weeks, which seems about right. Finish the draft, put it away, clear your mind, meditate on a mountain and work on another project for a short while. A short story, a magazine article, your blog, whatever it takes to keep your fingers and mind writing, but not on your novel.

Then, when the grapes have fermented, bring the book back up and re-read it. The first revision (before you get to the Ten-Step Revision Strategy which is the final revision) is to look for major issues, character issues, plot, setting, time inconsistencies etc, and also theme.

During this revision, usually something will begin to stand out, at first maybe just a tickling at your brain, but with due diligence you'll see that beyond the thriller about the murder at the hospital, something else happened. This is usually revealed in one of the character arcs of your story, usually the hero. It may be as simple as how the events of the story changed her or altered her world view. It may be reflected in the change of her attitudes towards other characters or her work or her home. It may be hard to find at first, but it's usually there. Search for it, brush the dust off, sweep away the detritus, and you'll find it. Your theme.

Now, you may ask why is it important to find this, to know that deeper underlying story when, in reality, all you've set out to do was write about a murder at the hospital. My view on this is very simple. Knowing the theme can only make your book stronger. That theme, if portrayed properly, without too much emphasis, becomes the readers "Aha," moment. Their take home message. It's not a moral, just a lingering thought. It's what can make your book stand out above all the other hospital murder stories ever written. It's what makes your writing, yours.

Once you've identified the theme (perseverance against all odds, a young woman's struggle for success and independence, whatever) then when you're revising, it becomes very easy to add scenes or embellish scenes that help to bring this theme to the surface, or eliminate scenes that are contradictory or non-helpful.

The story is still about your story, but by bringing that theme to life, your story becomes about so much more.

This is what I've been doing recently with my book. I've finally identified the theme, and suddenly the whole story seems so much clearer to me.

More on that next time.

1 comment:

Jennifer Shirk said...

Great post!
Doing a little characterization revising myself right now.

I'd be happy to exchange links with you. (If you still want to) :)