Literary Themes

I don’t usually think of myself as a writer who sets out with any particular theme(s) in mind when I start a novel – usually my books begin with either a character or a historical event that sparks my imagination and then (as I am a planner not a pantser) the plot and details follow. While I know I am drawn to particular historical periods, character traits, and (dare I say it) political movements and issues, I hadn’t really ever thought about thematic elements in my work until I was putting together an updated project grid listing my current and proposed writing projects. It was only then that I saw some of my little thematic quirks – and of course now I’ve seen them I can’t unsee them!

Literary themes usually address fundamental aspect of society or humanity. In crime fiction issues such as the concepts of justice, punishment, and the nature of good and evil, inevitably come into play. When I think about some of my own favorite writers I soon realize they turn to similar themes in their work. In a series, these themes may recur because they underlie a protagonist’s backstory or motivation (childhood trauma, addiction, poverty etc.) but exploring thematic elements can also (accidentally perhaps) reveal a lot about an  author and the issues they keep come back to in their work.

It was interesting to see the kind of themes that seem to recur in my own books as they certainly seem to suggest I have a few existential and philosophical debates that remain unresolved in my subconscious:) Some of the particular themes I noticed (in no particular order) include:

  • Patriotism (I often seem drawn to characters fighting for political independence or going against the established notion of patriotic duty);
  • Good versus evil in a spiritual/supernatural sense (I often explore religious, occult, and spiritualist ideas);
  • A women’s role in society (okay, no surprise there, since I have suffragette characters!);
  • Dislocation (My characters are often feel they don’t belong or are disassociated from the life they currently live);
  • Loss (this surprised me as I hadn’t realized just how many characters I have dealing with the aftermath of loss).

In addition, I also found that I seem to have an inordinate interest in both India and Ireland. The latter is probably explained by my Irish roots (thanks!) but I’m not sure about the India obsession (I’d like to think I lived there in a previous life, but given my results I would have been too poor to leave the farm in Ireland!). I also have a weird attraction to the year 1916…with 3 unrelated books set in that year without me consciously realizing it!

So TKZers, have you ever explored the themes that underlie the books you write or the books you love to read? When you look at your own work, do you see recurring themes? If so, what are they?