Friday, April 22, 2011
What's your theme?
I know, I know, themes apply to books not people. But I think we all have certain situations we gravitate to as writers - and readers - again and again. Actually conventional writing advice suggests we should embrace our themes, that one way to build a readership is to revisit the same types of plots/archetypes so that your readers know what to expect and then seek you out. Sometimes we don’t try to do that; it just happens. Either way, thinking about the kinds of stories you find yourself drawn to is interesting on both sides of the writer/reader table.
For me, I write a lot of stories about people who aren’t who other people think they are. The window dressing changes but the core of the book is about that dichotomy. Sometimes it’s obvious - in the erotic contemporary novella I just finished, the hero is a PI working undercover as a pretty inept stripper to try to get evidence on the heroine being a madam. The heroine isn’t a madam, obviously, and she’s not even the woman the hero’s looking for. But through a mixup with a sex cocktail, she believes her “wanton” behavior isn’t her fault. She’s wrong. In this case, she’s not even who she thinks she is. Those echoes show up all over my work, since way back before I ever started paying attention to them.
Some might question why I find that particular topic so engaging. I think it’s because I don’t think we ever truly know anyone, and I also don’t think we ever completely know ourselves. Our experiences and our values and the people we love all influence and shape us, but they don’t define us. All it takes is one event to elicit a new reaction and send us down an entirely new path. That trigger, so to speak, that sparks hidden parts of ourselves we weren’t aware of, or didn’t want to be. I think that partly explains why so many serial killers are described by their neighbor as “that nice, quiet man.” We never truly know what’s going on in each other’s heads or brewing in each other’s psyches...and that’s the stuff of GREAT fiction.
Not all of my books deal with this theme, but most of them do. I suspect most of them going forward will as well. The depths of possibilities are just too rich. But to show you how unconscious this theme business is, I’m not a plotter. Ask Taryn Elliott, my beloved CP, how much I plot. But yet time and time again I return to the same intrinsic storyline, told in many different ways. And I never consciously decide to do this ahead of time.
Don’t believe me? Below is a list of my published/soon to be published books to date and what they're about.
Full Disclosure - a man who has a secret sideline business falls for a woman in his law firm who’s keeping secrets herself about her personal life.
Ex Appeal - a couple who has broken up learn new things about each other when the heroine has a makeover and the hero decides to adopt a persona on an online dating site, something he never would have done in the past.
Personal Research - an erotic romance writer who channels her sexual side into hot fiction has a secret affair with the office computer guy, who turns out to be her boss’s nephew.
Reveal Me - a reporter looking to write an edgy story goes to a voyeurism club to try to observe how it really works, and runs into the girl he’d loved in high school, who never dropped her mask of being just a wild partygirl.
Insatiable - a man struggles to get his lifelong best friend to see him as more than buddy material and sets out to prove there’s a lot more to him than she knows.
Provoke Me - an assistant bookstore manager falls for her seemingly straightlaced boss. She then runs into him at a sex club and discovers he enjoys voyeurism--both watching and being part of the action. She also quickly learns she enjoys it as well.
See what I mean? Kinda weird isn’t it? Also shows how many ways there are to skin a cat (ugh, hate that phrase!)
Now it’s your turn. What’s YOUR preferred theme, either to read or write about? Do you have one or just go for whatever strikes your fancy? (I do that too, but it's amazing how often my "fancy" goes in certain directions.) I can’t wait to hear everyone’s responses.