Part 5 in the series: How I found the snow path to Dingle Reviewers said a big reason Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was so successful was that he wrote on a theme no less important than the existence of Jesus himself. It was a question almost universal, and he took it to the next level, whether Jesus actually had children and a bloodline could exist today. Pretty compelling, and writers who target such a theme can easily tap into a large audience.
In my case, I was exploring a story that was unfolding as I researched and studied my topic area. And while themes certainly emerged, my goal was to tell the best story I could. Sharavogue began as a story of revenge and self-actualization, about the obstacles that can confront you on your way to your goals. Ultimately, and I only realized this after I stumbled across a Keats poem that rang home for me, it is about the range of emotion--from violence and hatred to love and mercy--that humans are capable of feeling and expressing.
I think writing on a theme is great if you are really emotionally engaged with that theme. For me, thinking about what my theme would be stifled the creative process. I needed to let the story unfold in its own way, and then refine it through revisions. When it came time to publish, I did feel a bit exposed, that through my writing I had perhaps revealed more of my private self than I wanted to or should.
As Glen C. Strathy writes:
Curiously, some novelists say they don't believe in theme – or at least they don't believe in giving any thought to the matter while writing. They prefer to concentrate on telling a good story rather than delivering a profound message. However, theme cannot be excluded. Every writer has interests, opinions, biases, and attitudes. Some are conscious; some are unconscious. Some you gain from experience and honest reflection, while others you pick up uncritically from others. You cannot avoid your personal “wisdom” creeping into what you write, creating patterns that can be identified as “themes.” via Choosing a Theme for Your Novel.
I believe in writing from the heart. In my case, I was working on the book for several years. If I had not been deeply and emotionally engaged, I don't believe I could have maintained the energy to complete it. I also had enough self doubt without allowing concern over the proper theme to feed the flame. That theme naturally emerges from creative writing is all part of the magic of writing, and what makes it such an interesting process of discovery.