Repeating themes in your novel

I am just writing the final part of my next novel. On the back of the success of David’s Goliath I wanted to get my next novel out there. It hasn’t been rushed and the editing process is still ahead of me, but the work has moved along quickly. Considering I also write for others, I have been fortunate to set aside some time every working day to get more of this story down. It has built and developed along the outline I had from the beginning and the work is starting to look really good, if I say so myself!

The novel is a detective story following two men — the killer and the main detective on their trail. It is a departure from the last book but I have really enjoyed writing it.

One of the parts of this book that has struck me is the continuity I have needed to keep. It is a much longer book than the last one and this has brought about many challenges. The themes that are in the book help bring the story together. You can make sure that this is contained in your writing to keep the reader interested. It isn’t necessarily the overall themes of the book that I mean here, but the common threads that might join characters or scenes. I’ll give you an example from this book. This is on the 2nd page -

He then played his ace card. He knew that this was the one that would get their attention. All his life he had been told tom keep the ace card and play it as late as possible. His grandfather told him to keep the ace card, or the best domino in your hand and only use it at the killer point in proceedings. But Augustine always wanted to play it as soon as possible. Once playing cards when he was younger, Augustine had what he thought was a killer card in his hand. He kept hold of it to use at the most pertinent part of the game. The part where it would turn everything in his favour. That point never came and he lost the game of cards with his best card still in his hand. He vowed never to finish anything with his best card still in his hand again. He wanted the opponent to know that he meant business and he wasn’t afraid to play his cards when he felt like it, not when the game dictated. In this instance, the ace card would grab the attention of the team and hopefully transform this case into one that they all believed in.

Now I keep coming back to this reference through the book. The main character, Augustine Boyle, has a dilemma in different situations in the book whether to -

  • Play his cards close to his chest
  • Play his ace card as soon as he can

This theme is a hook for the reader to work with. They may think about their own situations or may strike a chord with their own experience in life. Although as a writer you are sharing your imagination with someone else for a while, if they don’t have any connection to the story or the characters then you are very unlikely to keep them reading. The way that you write must take into account the audience. Don’t write something derivative that they can get anywhere else, but don’t write something o alien that your readers don’t engage with it.

There are three main places that you can set your writing in -

  1. The real world
  2. A totally imaginary world
  3. An amalgam of the two

I prefer to write in the last of these three because there are elements of my imagination along with real world elements that people will engage with. They will see a totally made up city, but the descriptions will include elements of a city they live in or have visited. I like to mix a few different locations together (it’s the same with characters) so people will always feel a connection.

And so it is with themes. A theme needs to be mundane and everyday enough that the vast majority of people out there (your potential readers) have experienced that theme before,. In my new book that theme is playing cards and getting advice from a grandparent. These are themes that will resonate with a lot of people. But then the themes are used in different ways throughout the book -

  • In a conversation with a murder suspect
  • Face to face with a murderer
  • In conversation with a disruptive colleague

So we then move from a theme that most people can be familiar with, to some situations exploring that theme where people don’t have experience. You now have a hook that adds familiarity to unfamiliar situations as well as a way to play with the theme as the story goes on. Each situation will twist it one way or another. The central question is ‘should you play your cards close to your chest and hold on to the winning card as long as possible, or should you play that as soon as you can to weaken your opponent.’ The book isn’t finished and I haven’t decided if the main character, Augustine Boyle, will fall one way or the other or even resolve it at all. Time will tell.