Role of Themes in Fiction
by Ammar Habib
I recently had my first novel, Dark Guardian, published through a traditional publishing company (The Zharmae Publishing Press) this past August. My background is that I am 21-years-old and was born, raised, and still live down in the great city of Houston, Texas. Or as we Texans like to say, we live in the Nation of Texas! Although Dark Guardian was my first book to have published, I have been writing since I was in grade school. One thing I have learned about writing, and would like to discuss briefly in this article, is on the topic of themes/messages in fiction and the role they play.
Themes are a very interesting aspect of writing. My writing philosophy is that fiction writing should be used to make the world a better place. And to do this, books should have messages that the reader can learn about or ponder over long after they have finished the story and put the book down. When putting a story together, I like to first come up with the messages that I hope to pass on to the reader. Every work of fiction, whether intentionally or unintentionally, has a message that it gives to the reader. Even if the author writes their book strictly to entertain, the reader will get a message out of it based on the story plot and characters’ arcs. An author should try to do what they can to make sure that whatever message the reader gets out of the novel is one that will stay with them and hopefully help make their lives better.
Novels normally have more than one message. There are typically one or two main messages that the story as a whole conveys and then there are several other smaller messages that appear in parts of the story. For example, in Dark Guardian the major themes I had in my mind as I wrote it are about redemption, self-forgiveness, willingness to forgive others, and freedom. However, in parts of the story, there are messages about the power of love, letting go of the past, and sacrifice.
In the novel I am currently writing with a local physician from my area, which is a historical fiction piece, the core theme is the responsibility people have to use their gifts to make the world a better place. However, other themes that are prevalent throughout certain parts of the book include the power of coexistence, importance of education, living without fear, and power of education. I give you these examples to show how novels typically have more than one message.
Now one thing I learned from my writing mentor, a gentleman who is an award-winning author himself, is that when conveying a theme to the reader, you can’t hit them in the face with it. In this day and age, you have to be subtle when conveying a message to the reader. Show it, don’t tell it. They should see it through the setting, character arcs, or plot. The first thing a book needs to have is that the story needs to be entertaining and captivating enough to keep the reader engaged and make them dive into the story’s world. The theme then needs to be tactfully weaved into the story. This can be a tricky thing to do something and requires planning, patience, and a second-pair of eyes in many cases. Another great way to learn how to convey themes is to read other writings and learn from them.
And the interesting thing about themes is that at times, different readers can get completely different messages from the same book. For example, I have had some people tell me that from Dark Guardian, they got the message of ‘redemption’ while other have told me that they main message they received was a ‘good triumphs over evil’ theme. And even still, some have told me that they received a message of ‘choices’ or a message of ‘one-man’s worth’ from the book.
An example I like to use to further illustrate this point is Harry Potter. Some people read the Harry Potter series and get the message of the ‘power of friendship’. Other read it and get the message of ‘good vs. evil’. And still some get the message of ‘destiny’. Even though they all read the same book series, they all get different things out of it.
And this is the beautiful think about themes. Based on where people are in their lives and what they are going through, they will receive different things from the story. Often times if we read a book and then re-read it years later, we receive completely different messages from the story because we are at different points in our lives. When people tell me that they read my novel, I always love to ask people what message they got out of it. Sometimes the answers blow me away because they get something out of it that I never even intended (and here I wrote the story)!
And although writers cannot often control or predict what every single reader will get out of a story, what authors can control is what kind of a message they will get. Will it be one be a message that will make an impact and help make the world a better place? Or will it be one that the reader will forget when they put the book down? Because making the world a better place is what writing is really all about. The books that try to do this are the ones that last the test of time.
Ammar Habib is an author based out of Houston, TX. His debut novel, ‘Dark Guardian’, was published through a traditional publishing company in August 2014. It will be the start of a trilogy with the second installment releasing in 2015. Writing has always been a passion of Ammar’s. He enjoys crafting stories that are entertaining, but also have something useful to say to the reader. Ammar enjoys spending time with his father, mother, and brother, all of whom are his biggest fans.