Whenever I've had a little time to share thoughts on the writing process with you, I've tried to give simple, practical tips to apply to your fiction projects. Today's musings are rather more complex but, I hope, will prove just as valuable to your writing. And perhaps in other ways, too. I'm talking about: theme. And a particular theme at that! This is all about women coping with adversity and overcoming past trauma to transform their lives, and create a better environment for themselves and their families.
Oddly enough, when I started working on my most recent novel, The Gentleman Poet, I wasn't thinking about poetry or about a man. I had in mind a young woman in 1609 who, like many women today, faced difficult challenges and must have been feeling very much alone in the world. You see, Elizabeth, my heroine, is based on a real 17th-century serving girl who was traveling from England to Jamestown, Virginia on a ship. She had lost her own family to disease and other cruelties of the times. She had no money of her own, few skills, no friends, and it appeared her life would continue on its grim, loveless path.
But I know the hidden strengths that women, throughout time, and all around the world, possess. When they become empowered and believe in themselves, they are capable of turning around truly tragic lives. Sometimes with a little help, but ultimately because they are determined to seek a better, more productive, fulfilling life for themselves. This was what I wanted for my orphaned Elizabeth. It's what I wish for women everywhere, actually. Whether they live in the U.S., Egypt, Libya, China, the Ukraine or any other spot on the planet, I hope they will find the strength to seek their higher selves. To turn their backs on abuse, loss, poverty and depression, and then to look to their true potential as a means of betterment.
In my novel you'll read how, in my imagination, Elizabeth might have spun her life off in a new and brighter direction. Her tale, I've been told by my readers, is nothing less than inspiring. In real life, I can assure you that women, just as brave and determined as she, are even now seeking the means to protect themselves and their children, to move forward with their lives, to build something valuable from the dark days of their past. I'd love to hear from you about women you've known who have faced down adversity. Perhaps this woman is even you! (Below, I've given you a way to share your story with others.)
But wait! I was helping you understand why theme is important to a short story, novel, or memoir. Think of theme as the glue that keeps the plot, characters, and everything else involved in your literary work stuck together. Theme also adds weight, timelessness, and universality to your writing. When we write about "the power of love," we know that readers will sympathize with the characters because the reader has experienced love, in one form or another. When we use "compassion for other human beings" as a theme, we depend upon our audience to understand the inherent goodness in caring for others, even if they are strangers.
Think about how you might use theme to enrich your stories. How does a person (man or woman) rise above circumstances and create a safe and satisfying life for her/himself, and for those they cherish?
Best wishes and happy writing days—even during those tough times! Kathryn
An invitation: Do you know a woman who has risen above adversity to make a better life for herself and her family?
Tell us about her! (You may prefer not to mention names.) I'll be guest blogging tomorrow (3/6/11) on Borders: True Romance site (www.bordersblog.com/trueromance). If you send your comments there when the blog goes live tomorrow (or any time after that and before midnight, East Coast time, on Wednesday 3/8/11), I will donate $1.00 (up to a total of $500.) to the Washington, DC House of Ruth, for each person who shares their story or thoughts on this topic. (Don't send me money; I'm making the donation for you! You are making a difference just by sending your comments.)
In case you'd like to learn more about this amazing organization that assists over 600 women and children in the Washington, DC area alone, here you go… www.houseofruth.org/ The people they help have been living in stark poverty and violent, abusive surroundings. They are given safe shelter and guidance in achieving their goal of a better life,