Theme Confusion: Clarify It for Your Readers

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Like the thesis for an academic essay, the overall theme of your story is what holds everything together. But sometimes, finding that common thread can be tricky. Maybe your story has multiple plot lines happening at once – or characters that refuse to stick to one genre. How it typically works is that each book has maybe a handful of themes that situate it within a larger genre. But if those themes don’t play nicely together, you might find that you’ve run into some issues.

Whatever the problem is, oftentimes the best course of action is to consolidate everything to fit the majority. But if that doesn’t work, your issues might be in a different area. This week, I’m troubleshooting what might be the problem, and helping you fix it quickly.

Got a bunch of cowboys solving a mystery with some rogue interstellar aliens?

Sounds epic, but it’s definitely in between genres. You can usually determine where it would best fit by employing the help of beta readers. Tell them the genre is uncertain, and you want to know how they would shelve it. That kind of blind read should help you learn both more about your story, as well as how casual readers would perceive it. If your characters really are this delightfully weird, read this recent article HERE.

Your ideas are loose, and you’re not sure where to begin.

If this is the case, I’d wager your problem is that you’ve jumped the gun. Depending on how you typically like to develop your stories, you might benefit from outlining a lot more. This allows your brain to catch up with your ideas, and to pace your story the way it needs. I should clarify though that I feel super hypocritical saying all this because I don’t write this way. My process is much more relaxed, where I just kind of daydream about a concept for months on end before I actually start writing it. If you’re a type A personality the way I am, you might find that keeping an imaginary outline in your head is more conducive to letting ideas develop organically. But if you really like writing them down and tying yourself to a more concrete plan, do it! Writing is mostly just trial and error.

Read other books in your chosen genre so you can model your theme after them.

I’m obviously not saying to rip off other authors (that’s never okay), but you can absolutely emulate their pacing, tone, and styles. If you zoom in on reading a bunch of YA science fiction before drafting your own, you’ll know exactly what the industry standard is. Then you can add your own spin and flair into that theme to help your fans recognize your work no matter where they see it. To help you manage feedback from fans while still staying confident in your work, read this article HERE.

Write a theme you like to read!

At the end of the day, you have to love what you’re writing. And of course, there’s no rule saying that you must stay in only one genre. The purpose of this article is merely to remind you that readers are going to have certain expectations when they see a certain theme. So if you don’t plan on following through with those, then you better do so purposely – and only because you have something way better in mind. Be a trailblazer – absolutely! Just don’t do it accidentally. That would paint you like an amateur hack, when in reality, you’re a visionary with less publishing under your belt. But as with all things in life, time heals all.

Honor your passions first.

Building off of my previous point, I want to emphasize that market research like keywords, hashtags, and forums will give you a lot of room to grow. Learning how to leverage these tools will help you build your theme and genre into structures that you can stand on proudly. Learn what makes the best-sellers tick, and then do what they do. However, my big caveat with this is – still make sure you write what you love. Some authors in the past have suggested writing to appease a certain market (especially if you want to try your hand at traditional publishing), but I couldn’t disagree more. That’s absolutely the writing version of being a sell-out. So to balance both schools of thought, I say this: Learn from the greats, but write your dreams into reality.

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


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