Howdy, howdy! Have you ever run into one of those people who asks what your novel-in-progress is about, but after you explain it to them, they’re all like “no, what is it really about…”? They’re usually English majors or something along that line: people who can’t accept that sometimes, in writing, blue curtains are just blue curtains. These are the deep thinkers, the over-analyzers. And they’re usually pretty cool people. But if you aren’t prepared for the question, it can be annoying and frustrating. Especially if you’re like me and don’t consciously build underlying themes into your work. So, I thought I would take a minute to ramble about hidden meanings and all that fun stuff.
Like I said, I don’t go into a writing session with the purpose of bringing a particular lesson to the page. I don’t know many people who do. The few I know who have tried doing this come across as preachy and, in all honesty, more than a little douchenozzly. (This was a long time ago and in no way reflects my current circles.) I like to let things happen naturally, especially in a first draft. If the story is good, themes and hidden meanings will bury themselves into the story and eventually make themselves known.
How do I know this? Because when I was doing exercises from Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision, one of the things I had to do was state the main vision of the novel I was preparing to revise. I had no idea what LR was about in any deep sense. I didn’t really care. The story and characters were fun, so why did it need to be about anything other than dragons and war? Then, I started reading through it and noticed a weird trend. When everyone listened to each other and thought things through, there was forward momentum. When everyone just argued and ignored things, everything stalled out. So, I ended up with a sticky note on my computer that says “Vision: Looking at conflict from multiple angles (including the enemy’s) allows one greater access to the Truth and the ability to make difficult decisions.”
It turns out that listening and understanding are things I write about a lot. I don’t know why. It’s kind of like when Nancy Holder told me that young people getting dragged into new worlds was “classic Shawna.” I had no idea. Apparently, it’s what I gravitate towards without realizing it. Granted, listening isn’t the only thing hidden in my stories, but I think it’s a lesson we all need to consider getting into the habit of, especially right now. Maybe that’s why I notice it cropping up more and more in my stuff.
Anyway, I suppose all of this just boils down to the fact that I think it’s kind of neat to see things I never intended to write about pop up in my stories. So, while I may not know what my novel is about when you ask, I’ll eventually figure it out during revision. What about you? What themes pop up in your work? Feel free to share your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!