Friday, July 31, 2020

What Themes Attract Readers?

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?


18 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. My older son's favorite writer in the genre is John le Carre, although his early work like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold still remains his signature novel.

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  2. I think one of the themes in mysteries and some crime fiction is that justice, at least to one degree or another, will prevail. Even if justice doesn't come to all the bad guys, there's still usually some resolution that makes us feel there's some order to the universe.

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    1. Paul,

      I agree with you. That's what makes it so appealing. Justice is done--unlike the real world where that doesn't always happen.

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  3. I agree with Paul (and P.D. James) that the mystery novel is not about murder, but about the restoration of order. Other popular recycled themes have to do with love, jealousy, revenge, greed, redemption--the same human emotions and inclinations that have been written about since the Bible.

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    1. True, Saralyn, human nature hasn't changed. So themes in literature that deal with human emotion will always be attractive to readers.

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  4. When I begin a mystery, I know I'm exploring different concepts of justice--will everyone who has broken the law or violated a norm be held accountable, and if so, how. Is it possible to hold everyone accountable? Are the laws written by humans so perfectly fair to all? For me, the mystery isn't about the murder; it's about what happens after the murder, how does it change people and how do they cope with an altered world. In the end some sort of order is restored, but that order will not be the same as the one that existed before the murder. This is also why I love to read and write mysteries.

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    1. Susan,

      I always enjoy reading your mystery novels because they have depth and explore humanity with soul-searching integrity.

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    2. Jacquie, great post. Yes, I've always thought mysteries all had a similar theme--finding justice. But many have secondary themes, and a while ago, I decided to figure out what mine was. It's friends and family relationships. I think thattheme can add depth to any story.

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    3. Hi Jan,

      I would have to agree with you. Blood Family also has the themes of family and friend relationships.

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  5. I agree that justice is the objective in the mysteries that I find satisfying. And I loved Susan's point about how a murder changes the world it occurs in: the small world of family & friends and the circles that go out from them. I've discovered that much of what I write has a theme of friendship-the commitment to helping friends.
    Good post!

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    Replies
    1. Cozy mysteries often have positive themes of this kind and are geared toward women readers.

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  6. You always give such great information, Jacquie.
    THANKS for sharing.
    Good luck and God's blessings
    PamT

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  7. Thank you, Pam. I enjoy reading your blog as well.

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  8. As always, an interesting and informative post, Jacquie.
    The overall theme in my Malone mysteries is the disease of alcoholism and what it can do to a family but that, with help, there is hope. And, in my Small Town mysteries, the fact that family isn't just about being blood-related is the underlying theme.

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  9. Hi Pat,

    Those are excellent themes to which readers can relate.

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