Whether authors of fiction write short stories, plays or novels, theme is an essential component, just like characterization, plot and setting. A theme, which is a universal idea or message that stretches throughout a work, often is sociological or cultural in nature.
Some themes reoccur because they have strong appeal for readers. For instance, I recently finished reading a thriller in which the theme was conspiracy theory, popular in the suspense genre. Fiction writers often pull their themes from nonfiction and then write faction. Readers are attracted to such themes because they can easily identify and connect to them. Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer are two popular suspense writers who have successfully done this. Shakespeare often used politics as an underlying theme in his plays whether contemporary or historical.
Good fiction writing needs a cohesive theme to hold the work together. The lesson is generally about life or humanity and is preferably implied rather than stated outright. The show-not-tell rule works well with theme.
However, there may be more than one theme, especially in a novel. One way to convey theme is through recurring use of symbolism. Hawthorne and Hemingway were both particularly talented in that regard.
Romances concentrate on the theme of finding love everlasting. But even with romance fiction there are often secondary themes. Two of my historical romance novels for Luminosity, SINFUL SEDUCTION and soon to be released HIGHLAND HEART, are connected with themes of war and politics.
In HIGHLAND HEART, jealousy is an important theme motivating the protagonists. The reference to OTHELLO is deliberate.
Mysteries, in turn, are about finding solutions and discovering the truth about puzzling situations such as solving murders and imposing order where there was chaos. These are themes that attract mystery readers and what they expect. My latest Kim Reynolds mystery BLOOD FAMILY is concerned with such matters.
There are often socially significant secondary themes in crime fiction. Kim, for instance, begins a quest to discover the paternity of her father. This involves her in a complex mystery. The desire to uncover true identities is another reoccurring theme in mystery fiction.
What themes interest you as a reader or a writer? What themes appear to be especially significant?