Theme In Fiction – A New Direction

What is the Theme of your current Story?

Theme is the broad idea, message, or lesson of a story.

I have noticed in my reading, (and I’m talking emerging independent writers primarily), that there is a repetition of theme and subject. Some of the most common ones are love, lost love, death, an apocalypse, horrible parents, alien interference,  corrupt government, murder, mental illness, friendship, lost friendship, deceit, betrayal, forgiveness, treachery, supernatural occurrence (zombies, ghosts, werewolves, mystics), sex, gay sex, unusual sex, (the emphasis being on the sex part of the story),  etc.

In the world of independent authors it’s rare to come across a story that is truly fresh in its view.

Why is that I wonder?

Jonas ponders.

Photograph by Ollie Crafoord

I think it has a lot to do with the culture of our modernized world. We are bombarded with images, concepts, stories, books, movies, advertising, and music. It’s so easy, (at a subconscious level really), to rehash something we are already familiar with rather than dig deep into our imagination and discover something new.

This entire discussion came about because of my wife.

I have talked a lot about my wife here on NovelNook and there is a reason for it. She has a huge influence on my writing life.

(I can only hope that all of you have someone like her in your life as well.)

For today, I’m just going to tell you that she is extremely well read, extremely intelligent, and one of the finest plot analysts I’ve ever come across. She is also a native of Argentina which often leads us to the discussion of Latin American authors.

Two days ago, she began to tell me about a short story by Chilean author, Isabelle Allende.

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende

As the story unfolded, my mind raced through the prospect of writing this blog article. The story is titled, Nina Perversa (Perverted Girl) and it is a short story published in the book, Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna).

Now you might be saying, “Wait a minute! Sex was on your list up there,” and you’re right.

But…

When I finished hearing the story, I was stunned by the theme, (the message), behind the story. I felt this way for several reasons:

  1. It is a really good story
  2. It is written in a fashion that is uncharacteristic of American authors.
  3. This particular theme had never occurred to me in my writing, (not even the tiniest notion of an idea), nor had I ever read anything in my slush pile that addressed it.
  4. The act of sex has very little to do with the story.

 a synopsis

(I’m going to tell you the story. I encourage you to read it anyway. It is available in English. See my link below)

The Stories of Eva Luna

The Stories of Eva Luna

A woman runs a boarding house, and she has a precocious eleven-year-old daughter. One day a man comes to the woman to rent a room. He is a singer and quite handsome. Not long after renting a room at the house, the man develops a relationship with the woman and they become lovers.The man eventually moves in with the woman and her daughter. The girl is in puberty and developing sexual curiosity. She secretly witnesses her mother and the man making love. Her hormones rage, and she becomes obsessed with the idea of sex.

One day the girl and the man are alone in the house. The man is asleep on his bed. The girl enters the room wearing nothing but her underwear. She jumps on top of him waking him from his sleep. He forces her off even as she presses her body to his and pushes her tongue into his mouth. He jumps up angry and pushes her to the floor, calling her a perverted girl.

The next day, the girl was sent away to boarding school.

The days turn into weeks, and then months, and finally years. The girl never returns to the house. Her mother visits her, but the man always finds a reason not to go.

It was during this time that the man’s life unravels; turning into a living Hell. He cannot sleep. He cannot sing. At first, he is overcome by guilt (despite the fact that he rebuffed the girl). But, he begins to fantasize about his moment with the girl. He becomes petrified that he has somehow turned into a pedophile. But still, the encounter won’t leave his mind. He becomes tortured by his own actions as catches himself staring at girls in the local schoolyard, or buying girl’s underwear and fondling them; then filled with anguish, he burns them behind the house.

The girl on the other hand has grown into a woman. She graduates from her University and becomes a banker. Not long after that, she meets a man and falls in love. She marries him. Then one day, many years after the incident, she finally returns to the boarding house with her new husband.

This is the first time the man has seen the daughter since her departure years before. In the hours leading up to their reunion, the man practices over and over what he might to say to her. How he might answer her questions and try to bring sanity back to his life.

Here are the last lines of the story

At dusk, when all the euphoria of the arrival had passed, and mother, and daughter, had shared all the latest news,  they pulled some chairs into the yard to take advantage of the cool breeze.

The air was thick with the smell of carnations.

Bernal, offered a drink of wine, and Elena followed to get the glasses. For a few minutes they were alone, face-to-face, in the cramped kitchen.

And then the man, who had waited so long for that opportunity, retained the woman by the arm, and said that everything had been a terrible mistake, that, that morning he was asleep and did not know what he was doing, that he never wanted to throw her down and call her that terrible name. He asked for compassion, and forgiveness; to see if he could restore sanity, because in all these years an ardent craving for her had bullied him relentlessly, burning his blood and corrupting his spirit.

Elena stared at him and did not know what to say.

What perverted girl did he speak of?

For her, childhood was far behind, and the pain of that first unrequited love was sealed,  locked in her memory.

She kept  no memory of that remote Thursday.

Wow! Pretty Powerful Stuff.

Do you see the theme here? You never know when some action, or statement, that you commit to the world might alter someone else’s life immeasurably; without even knowing, or remembering, what you did.

It still causes me to pause, and contemplate that statement, even as I write it here.

Such a strong theme!

In conclusion, I would like to encourage you to read authors from other countries. My wife has introduced me to some authors from South America; authors like Isabel Allende, Julio Cortazar, and Mario Benedetti. These Latin American authors seem have an insight into the human condition, an insight that seems to escape us here in our busy world.

If you’re interested in the English version of “The Stories of Eva Luna”, click below

The Stories of Eva Luna

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “The Stories of Eva Luna”, by Isabel Allende

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

Bellakentuky

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Theme In Fiction – A New Direction

  1. Just found this. I’m reading this book for my Spanish studies. Very interesting observation you make:

    “You never know when some action, or statement, that you commit to the world might alter someone else’s life immeasurably; without even knowing, or remembering, what you did.”

    It’s important to remember this, because it means that we can have incredible effects on people with something so mundane that it requires little or no effort on our part. People sometimes forget this.

  2. The copy of this story, that I read to write this blog, was translated by my wife. I ordered an English version of the book, The Stories of Eva Luna. It arrived yesterday and in their version they translated the title as, Wicked Girl. Just wanted to point that out in case anyone is interested in getting the book.

  3. Probably any author who’s been at the trade for more than a few years has hear there are only “X” number of stories and every piece of literature is simply a retelling of one of those. I have no idea whether there’s an underlying truth to that. Westerns were retellings of swashbucklers and many science fiction stories are retellings of westerns, and so on.

    For me, however, what makes or breaks a piece of fiction isn’t so much the theme but the people. For me, the theme is the background noise while the people and how they interact, is the element that makes one story worth reading and another not worth the time it takes to remove it from the bookshelf.

    Character development and growth are the things I look for; dialogue and movement; personalities the either mesh or conflict. And at the end is the primary character the same as when the story began. Along the way there can be “flash” and “bang”, glitz and glitter, sex and love… that’s all well and good. But those things aren’t what make a good story, good.

    An example that comes to mind is one of my favorites; The Twelve Kingdoms. It’s translated from Japanese and covers seven volumes. It has been made into an animated series but the books (only four are available in English) are a wonderful exploration into the life of the principle character and the people she encounters while on her journey.

    I’m probably taking the long way around to agreeing with your assessment. At the same time, I believe what we see in “new” writers is not very different than what we see and have seen in works of many established (and even famous) writers. In fact, when tasked with having to churn out more and more titles at the prompting of their agents and publishers, established authors are likely to fall into the trap of formulaic fiction that bears little resemblance to literature.

    Be well,
    William

  4. It’s an interesting paradox that stories where ‘the sex has little to do with the story’ are later often regarded as classic erotic novels. Consider Lolita; less to do with the sex than the character’s guilt and perception of what he did to her.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s