When you planning your novel, the thing to remember is there’s more than one way to skin a cat. If you ask ten different authors how they plan and structure their work, you will probably get ten different answers.
When I started out, I was someone who just dived in and let the creativity flow, not knowing where it was going to take me. That can be fun. You never know what you’re going to come up with! Nowadays, I plan more and try to use recognised structures for my work although I never stick to a strict path. I’ve found by working this way, I have some creativity but also I am finding more out about my characters, their motivations, how they fit in the story and how they connect with each other.
Once you’ve brainstormed and got your initial book idea and you’re confident you can turn it into a novel, you’ve got the concept. That is the acorn that your oak tree is going to grow from. By starting with your acorn, a story will be evolving through asking a series of questions. The more inquisitive you are, the easier this stage will develop. Every idea and scenario you come up with, you need to be thinking – what if? From there you will have choices and depending on which choice you make at each stage of the process will determine where your story goes. It can be quite fascinating. Once you’ve finished this stage, you will have a collective sum of questions and answers and that then becomes your story.
It’s time to think about the theme. By having a theme, it’s far easier to keep the story focussed. Once you’ve decided the purpose of your book you’ll be able to see much easier what should be in and what should be banished to the waste bin.
The theme is the deeper meaning beneath the story that gives the book depth. It links the characters to the plot in the chosen setting. In other words, it’s about people having specific experiences in particular places. The nature of the experiences and how the characters are affected by them enables the reader to reach a conclusion about some aspect of their life. In a nutshell, that is the theme.
In order to come up with a theme for your novel, you need to decide what issues you want to explore. Later down the line, when characters are introduced, you will be throwing them into situations and testing your theme. There can be both major and minor themes in a story. As a mystery writer, a common theme is that crime doesn’t pay. A minor theme in the same story may be a character overcoming adversity.
Sometimes, you can recognise the theme from the title of the book or the tagline. Other times it isn’t easy to recognise. You may finish reading a book and wonder what it was all about. If you can recognise the deeper level of the books you read, you will see how the theme runs through. So, the theme of the novel is the view it presents about life.