by Marsha Ward
Several years ago, I had a wonderful week in cool Prescott, Arizona, where I attended the Hassayampa Institute for Creative Writing at Yavapai College. In the friendly atmosphere created by the limited enrollment and the nurturing faculty and staff, I got to know many fine folks, and did revisions on work that had been mired in mud for a long while. The intensive writing workshop helped me focus on aspects of my writing that I had neglected. I had a chance to reach deep within myself to find emotions and conflicts that needed to be present in my characters to make them real.
The most important thing I found, though, was my theme, my reason for writing. I'd agonized over this issue for years. Why DID I write? I knew I felt compelled to do so, but did not know the underlying motivation.
It took me by surprise, when I was asked a single question, that the answer I gave was my theme, my motivation. The question was, "What do you want to share with the world through your writing?" I was blown away when my answer provided me with the purpose I'd been seeking to identify for such a long time.
I said, "I write to help people find hope amidst their trials, to learn to overcome, not just to wallow in misery."
Now you may think that doesn't apply to a novelist's work, that it's more suited to an essayist or a self-help guru. However, as I look back over my books, I think it fits nicely into what I have written. My principal characters pick themselves up in various ways and go forward with their lives. They illustrate how personal attributes and growth can help a person persevere.
I was very glad to have found my theme at long last. However, I don't go into every writing session thinking, How can I make my characters toe the mark and hold to the theme? I build my characters' attributes, motivations, and conflicts carefully and then let their actions come forth. Because I do this legwork out of my value system, the theme will be there, in one form or another, when I have finished.
How do you find what you want to write about? Maybe the same question I was asked will help you isolate your theme, too.