Is an author’s theme the key to reader loyalty?
I often ask myself why I have author preferences. What drives me to purchase that author’s work over another’s work again and again?
Is it the characterization? Or plot? Setting?
No. It is Theme!
What is Theme?
Without preaching or teaching, the fiction author attempts to examine social awareness, society, people, government, and life itself through setting, plot, and characters (kjhatz)
As stated by Blake Snyder in Save the Cat, “Somewhere in the first five minutes (5% of your novel) of a well-structured screenplay, someone (usually not the main character) will pose a question or make a statement.” This is the thematic premise. It is suggested that this be detailed, subtly, usually through dialogue.
In my current WIP, the thematic premise is stated by the secondary character through dialogue: “Nothing good ever comes from keeping secrets.”
As the author, my task is to show in each scene the damage that keeping secrets has on the characters. When the heroine risks trusting in the hero by telling the truth, and good happens, she inches toward wholeness. When she holds back, she hurts everyone around her, and loses her grip finding peace.
The main character must learn why she hides the truth, what she’s scared of, and face and overcome her fears, so she can change (character arc) and come into wholeness.
At the resolution of conflict, the end of the novel, the main character learns that lies create both physical and emotional bondage, but telling the truth, literally and figuratively, sets her free. The reader should take this message to heart, too.
Example (Spoiler Alert):
One of my favorite TV shows on CW31 is Vampire Diaries. Each season, the show’s creators examine the fallout of self-sacrifice to maintain family bonds. The main character, Elaina, is constantly altering her behavior, risking her life and, eventually, dying (turning into a vampire), to save her brother, Jeremy.
So the thematic premise for the Vampire Diaries might be:
- Family responsibility is more important than individualism; or
- Family bonds are worth self-sacrifice.
Why theme is Important?
In the case of Vampire Diaries, at the end of the season self-sacrifice is rewarded by everyone reuniting and celebrating, and Jeremy safe. The viewers leave emotionally satisfied believing that family bonds are worth self-sacrifice.
As an author of romance, you must make sure that the reader leaves with an emotionally positive impact.
How to find your theme (kjhatz)
- Locate an idea, thought, conflict, or situation that recurs throughout your novel.
- List the problem in the story that the readers see but not necessarily the characters.
- The resolution of the story problem often gives a hint to the thematic premise.
How to fix your WIP?
- Go back through your story, scene by scene, examine dialogue, setting, and plot. Make sure some aspect proving your thematic statement true (or false) exists.
- Rework the thematic statement into your WIP’s dialogue around the 5% place (for example, page 18 of a 350 page novel).
In the words of Chuck Wendig, make sure “…all pieces of cake contain the essence of that cake. So it is with your story: all pieces of the story contain the essence of that story, and the essence of that story is the theme. The theme is cake, frosting, filling. In every slice you cut.” –Chuck Wendig
So, the tie between theme and reader loyalty is how well the reader relates to the underlying message. Authors tend to revisit themes as they themselves strive toward finding wholeness. The more relatable variables your reader has to a novel, the more they will identify and empathize with the character’s conflict. Soon, the reader will root for the MC’s success. And by seeing how the characters solve and overcome their problems, as shown by the author, the reader is given a glimpse at how to solve their own similar conflicts. Thereby, the reader comes to understand their world a little better and how they might begin their journey to wholeness. This relationship, I believe, creates reader loyalty.
Happy Reading. Happy Writing!