Thursday, July 11, 2013
DISCOVERING A BOOK'S THEME
It all starts with the question: What's your book about? I used to say THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL was about tuberculosis, that's it's based on a family story, and about a young girl's first love. While all of that is true, it took me several rounds of revision to discover the theme, and when I discovered it, I rewrote the beginning.
Sometimes when the kerosene lamp casts shadows, I think I see Ma's ghost. If she were still alive, she'd say, Jessie Pearl, you keep on studying. Not everybody is cut out to be a farm wife. We'll find a way to pay for teachers' college. Leave your pa to me.
The theme for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL is "follow your dreams." Life throws lots of obstacles in Jessie's way, but she doesn't give up on her dream.
The novel I'm working on now is tentatively titled CAROLINA GIRLS. An editor recently posed the dreaded question to me: What's your book about? I said that it's about an accident, that it takes place in 1969, and has a subplot that deals with school integration. But as I've continued to revise, the theme has gelled. This book is about "courage." My protagonist, Sarah, sums it up very nicely:
Courage is doing hard things when you're most afraid, like saying you're sorry, or being friends with a colored girl.
In its essence, Sarah is on a journey to become a brave girl.
Discovering a book's theme is finding its heart. What's the heart of a book you're writing or currently reading? It's a question worth exploring.