Readers remember some novels long after they read them, and one of reasons is the theme or, in Christian fiction, the message that the story leaves with the reader. When working on your novel, ask yourself these questions: What will happen, and why does it matter? What will the characters learn and how will they grow? How will this novel make a difference in a reader’s life? If your story does not make a difference, if it doesn’t matter, then why write it? How can it serve the reader?
Consider first non-fiction. Can you imagine reading a book that didn’t have a point. Non-fiction focuses on a topic or theme. It has a purpose. Fiction is no difference. Your purpose could be to point out the foibles of the human condition. It could be to dramatize how love can cause a mother to give her life for their child. A novel can be a story that focuses on good verses evil and dramatize the power of good. A novel can show the power of love. It can illustrate how we are not alone, that others share our fears, worries, or sinfulness.
When a novelist begins to write a book, he has an idea. It may begin with characterization, then action and maybe settting, but if it doesn’t have direction or purpose, it falls flat. Think of Gone With The Wind without the backdrop of the Civil War. How long would it be remembered?
As an author of Christian fiction, my purpose is focused on a Bible verse that sums up a major idea in the book. Proverbs 16: 9 reads: In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. A book with this focus might be about someone who has made a life plan— a career, a goal, success, fame, an accomplishment—but things happen, and the character realizes to reach that goal, he may have to give up something else equally important. He must make choices and weigh decisions. As he mulls over this problem, he might realize that the Lord has plans for him far beyond his understanding. And the God’s plans meet his need and not his want. The struggle between needs and wants is a lesson we all must learn.
Developing the theme can be done in many ways. Give characters the situation that bring the struggle to life. Create a subplot that also demonstrates the battle of making wise choices and the influence of the Lord or the lack of influence and what that means to the characters involved. Create backstory that brings this theme to life and show how it affects the present in a positive or negative way. Devise a setting that pulls at the issue, the guides the character into making bad choices so that he suffers the repercussion of taking the wrong path. Create a tempting choice at one end of the road and a less attractive option in the other and follow the struggle of a character to make the right decision.
Theme cannot be blatant. It must weave through your novel like a fine golden thread woven in a tapestry. It adds beauty and meaning but doesn’t jar or destroy the total design. Theme will be seen as the character journeys from the beginning to the end and will impact the depth and quality of the novel.
I know this works because of reader mail. Letter after letter reveals how my novels have made a difference in someone’s life. The readers tell me what they learned about themselves or about someone else. They tell me how they found an answer to a question or how they realize they need to ask questions about their life. They walk away with something that has made a difference.
Though you might not write Christian fiction, you can, writing any genre, sum up in a sentence what the major theme or purpose of your novel seems to be—good wins over evil, love is worth fighting for, lies tangle lives, gossip begets gossip, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and laughter can heal. You can think of many more. These themes work for romance, thriller, women’s fiction, western, or any genre.
When you begin your novel, ask what you want the reader to take away when she finishes. If you can’t answer the question, this could be the reason your story hasn’t made an impact on an agent or editor. It may be why a reader enjoys it for the moment and can’t remember the title or what it was about a week later. Write so that you make an impact on your readers, and you will have written a memorable story that makes a difference in their lives.
How is Brent Runyan supposed to reach his troubled nephew? The workaholic businessman knows nothing about providing a real home to the orphaned boy who needs him so much. Special education teacher Molly Manning thinks the answer is threefold: love, time–and a dog. But Brent can barely let his nephew into his heart, let alone a golden retriever. With his tragic past, Brent knows what can happen when you love anything: you can lose it. Until Molly asks this dad-in-training to start with the basics by letting her stay…forever.