by Marsha Ward
Several years ago I spent a wonderful week in cool Prescott, Arizona, where I attended the Hassayampa Institute for Creative Writing at Yavapai College. In the friendly atmosphere provided by the wonderful staff and faculty and the limited enrollment, I got to know many fine folks, and did some revisions on work that had been mired in mud for a long while. The intensive writing workshop led by Kate Horsley (pictured, left) helped me focus on aspects of my writing that I had neglected. I had a chance to reach deep within myself to find emotions and conflicts that needed to be present in my characters to make them real.
The most important thing I found, though, was my theme, my reason for writing. I discovered that I write to help people find hope amidst their trials, to learn to overcome, not just to wallow in misery. Now you may think that's a non-applicable theme for someone who writes fiction, but as I look back over my works, I think it fits nicely into what I have written. My characters pick themselves up in various ways and go forward with their lives. They illustrate how personal attributes and growth can help a person persevere.
I'm very glad to have found my theme, since I'd agonized over this very issue for years. However, I won't go into every writing session thinking, How can I make my characters toe the mark and hold to the theme? I will build my characters' attributes, motivations, and conflicts carefully and then let their actions come forth. Because I do this legwork out of my value system, the theme will be there, in one form or another, when I have finished.
How do you find what you want to write about? I won't say it's simple, but it took me by surprise when I was asked a single question and the answer was my theme. The question was: "What do you want to share with the world through your writing?" I was blown away when my answer gave me the thing I'd been searching for, for such a long time. Maybe the same question will help you isolate your theme, too.