During this Holiday season I’ve been watching those Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. That set me to thinking about my childhood and watching those “Hallmark Hall of Fame” Christmas Specials. The greeting card company has a particularly memorable slogan intoned during the commercials. It went: “When you care enough to send the very best…”.
I remember thinking that there was something elegant about it. It was a statement of quality rather than a pitch saying, “Buy my product.” It was a set of marching orders proclaiming that creating a Hallmark card was more than just putting words on paper. And, as a result you really wanted to buy a Hallmark card. I recall thinking the slogan was really something I could believe and believe in.
A good theme could have the same effect for your story. If you believe and believe in your theme you are likely to create your characters, write narrative and dialogue, and craft your plot with greater passion and purpose than if you just wrote an interesting story. Your theme should be your driving force, your marching order, your raison d’etre in writing.
A train has two important crew members on board: the engineer and the conductor. The engineer is the driver, monitoring and adjusting the speed by manipulating the throttle and air rake, and relaying the operational information to the conductor. The conductor is the supervisor. He oversees the entire operation communicating with higher level supervisor.
Think of your story as a train. The plot is the engineer moving the story along, sometimes slowing to provide some important narrative or dialogue and at other times speeding up to pump up the action. Your theme is the conductor. It is the overall supervisor of your work. Your theme tells you how the entire trip is doing, provides guidance along the way, and keeps your plot and characters linked to your main ideas.
What you write, whether it is a fun beach read or a serious literary novel, should be created with passion and your theme helps you fire that passion by reminding you what is most important in your story. When you are tempted to stray, to slack off, or give up, your theme should steer you back on course and inspire you to higher purposes.
When creating that new story don’t short shrift the theme. Try and give as much thought to creating your theme as you do the twists and turns of your plot.