Theme in Romance Novels – Part Deux

Part Deux. Sigh. I long for the days when Charlie Sheen was just the star of movies like Hot Shots: Part Deux and not a train wreck…

So I promised to return to theme and I kind of reneged on it because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I’m still not sure but I know it’s a hot topic because I’ve seen it mentioned a few places as something romance writers don’t talk about. Really? Here I am! J

In my last post on theme, I said I believe theme should drive your plot. I was probably drinking that day, but it’s still a valid statement. To prove this, let’s look at a couple of potential themes for a story. But first, here’s the definition from Wikipedia again:

“A broad idea, message, or moral of a story. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.”

I write SFR so let’s start there. A lot of Science Fiction is based inside the theme of man vs. machine. In fact, maybe all of them. There’s always a human element at war with some type of technology. Even in Star Trek when the crew of the Enterprise is bumping skulls with the Borg, technology is in the mix on both sides. Voila, there’s the plot.

This is true in historical too. The story is almost always about aspects of society and characters either bucking against the norms or held prisoner by them in some way. Propriety, for example. Keep in mind, I’m speaking in the context of a romance novel, not the actual history of the period. The plot hinges on these societal “rules” and if you tried to move the story into present day, it wouldn’t work unless you changed a significant bit of the plot.

Then we have to change the theme.

Seriously. If you’re not doing man against machine or woman against propriety in the genres they belong to, the theme changes. Like if you set “woman against propriety” in present day, what propriety would she be going against? Not being behind closed doors with a man? Pregnancy out of wedlock? Marrying beneath her station? Come on. None of these would work in present day unless you’re writing inspirational and if that’s your cuppa, I’m more than happy to acknowledge that, but then I’d argue the theme is not “women against propriety”, it’s “woman against her faith”. See? Theme and plot go hand in hand with genre. I really think that’s why the definition in Wikipedia claims theme “ALONG WITH plot, character, setting, (also known as genre in most cases) and style…is considered [a] fundamental [component] of fiction.”

Okay, I think I made my point. Moving on. I’m really intrigued by the statement that the ideas of the theme are almost always implied rather than stated. I think there’s a lot more direct statement going on than not, at least in modern day works. Honestly, if I have to sit around and analyze stuff when I’m just trying to have a good read, I’m not jumping up and down about that. I kind of prefer the theme to be spelled out. I don’t have any good examples except my own work and I’m going to go on record and say in my manuscripts, it’s pretty explicit. But as I said in my last post on theme, I have a degree in Figuring Out Stuff In Fiction so maybe I do it automatically and don’t realize it’s not spelled out. Huh. I’m going to have to defer to the audience on this one. What do you guys think about implied vs stated themes?

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