Vicki's Book News and Articles

Craft: Author Theme v Novel Theme

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

Author theme and a novel’s theme are NOT the one and the same.

A novel’s theme is specific to that particular novel. The author might write fifty novels, and give each of the fifty novels a different theme.

The author’s theme remains the same, book to book, beginning with the first novel the author writes and continuing straight through to the last word the author ever writes.

To illustrate the difference, I’m going to insert my notes from a lecture I wrote on VOICE for a conference:

Author Theme has little to do with the subject matter of an author’s body of work, which can be extremely diverse, but refers to the common thread that appears in all the author’s works, regardless of their genre, style, or novel theme. Every writer has an Author’s Theme—a recurring similarity in all her works. There are a wide variety of Author Themes. But regardless of what kind of story the author writes, that theme is present.

Example: My Author Theme is Healing. Every book that I have written, whether it is a political thriller, military suspense, romantic suspense, paranormal, paranormal romance, category romance, fantasy, or philosophical/religious inspirational, contains that similarity. In the books, the characters will confront their most feared challenge, handle it constructively, and heal.

Some of the other Author Themes are Protector, Nurturer, Redemption, living with small town challenges, issues based in faith or trust (or a lack thereof). Others are ones of domination, abuse, manipulation, and so on. Look to the sins and virtues. Typically Author Themes are connected to them. (They’re universal to human beings.)

Now, don’t confuse Author Theme with novel theme. They are two separate and distinctly different entities. The novel theme can be anything. The Author Theme usually remains the same, book to book, because it comes from the essential core of the writer. Who that writer is as a human being, what s/he believes in, his or her perspective and experiences, his or her hopes and dreams and fears.

This Author Theme is a large part of why no other writer can ever write your same book–ever. Because other authors approach the same story from their own perspective, their experiences and hopes and dreams and fears feed into the work and change it. The author’s unique individuality is expressed, and can’t be edited out. It’s too much a part of any novel’s intricacies that the writer writes.

When authors write within their Author Theme, they are creating works in harmony with themselves, respecting their gift and remaining true to themselves as human beings. These qualities infuse the work, and the writing comes easier to the authors because it is natural to them, a reflection of their own inner purpose, which is why writers most often select the specific works and stories they choose to write.

When authors write outside their Author Theme, they are creating works that are not in harmony with themselves and/or their core purposes. That lack of harmony drains the strength from the work. The writer can’t infuse the writing with that which does not exist–there is no reflection to reflect.

So the work loses its power, its potential, and that means it’s going to give the writer screaming fits at trying to write it. The books that have you pulling out your hair when trying to write them are more often than not those not in harmony with your author’s theme.

Let me try to give you an example to make this clear. In Duplicity, I explored the story of a man who is deemed guilty of horrendous crimes he didn’t commit. He’s one of the two protagonists. He’s carrying a lot of emotional baggage (Can anyone over twelve escape that?),unearths a conspiracy that requires him to allow himself to look guilty in the eyes of all others when he is in fact innocent. Why? To protect his country from chemical contamination.

Now how he goes about this is where my healing theme comes into the picture. For him to be a protagonist in my book, I have to respect and admire him. I
have to believe that he is strong and capable, and sharp enough to carry the weight of his story role in this novel. He’s tough, he’s smart, and he’s savvy. But he is also protective of those who believe him guilty. That’s the point of his healing. When by his own will, he chooses to protect his accusers, risking everything he has to risk, including his life. That selfless act is a constructive-solution vehicle to the healing within for him.

Now that story-line fits within my Author’s Theme of Healing. But what if he had not been willing to risk everything, to make the sacrifices required to enlighten him and lead him to awareness for his own constructive healing?

What if the story-line had altered and instead he chose not to commit the selfless acts?

I would have been having fits at trying to justify his position as a protagonist in my book because I would not respect or admire him. I would have been having fits because I wouldn’t be able to accept him as heroic when I viewed his actions as cowardice. The vehicle for him to heal would not exist, and that means I would be attempting to write a story that is not in harmony with me. I’d be snatching myself bald and insanity would reign because, while I might be working totally within the novel’s theme, I would not be working within my Author Theme.

Recognizing your own theme is vital to every writer. In understanding Author Theme and how it works, you’ll also gain a perk. Insight on why you prefer to read specific author’s works. The secret? Their Author Themes are compatible with your own!

Now a novel’s theme pertains only to the specific book. The theme in Duplicity is “do the right thing, even when it costs you.” In Shades of Gray, the novel theme was “responsibility isn’t a coat. You can’t take if off when it’s convenient. You’ve got to wear it all the time and be comfortable wearing it.” In other books, I used other novel themes, such as love conquers all, the spirit is eternal, if we refuse to learn and grow we repeat past errors–all kinds of themes for the novels. But all the novels, without exception, are healing books.

Succinctly put, a novel’s theme is tied to a specific novel. An author’s theme is tied to a specific writer.


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