A mystery novel is about discovering truth—identifying the person who committed the crime.At the same time, you may want to investigate the truths of the story world. You may find themes in your story world you want to illustrate as your perception of your protagonist’s world.
Your theme impacts how your characters act. It’s the lens that filters what your story is about. More importantly, the theme can draw out opinions from your detective. They help your reader connect and empathize with your character as they search for the truth.
What is a Theme?
A theme is a cohesive concept that emerges in the story. It often touches on morality and the nature of our human condition. While your detective searches for the villain, they must navigate the story world where you have ample opportunity to address your theme.
Here are some examples of themes that can provide threads throughout your novel.
- Changing world
- Coercive control
- Trust and doubt
- Freedom vs freewill
- Individual vs. society
While you don’t want your story to be a moral diatribe, you can address your theme through the eyes of your characters.
A Theme Makes a Specific Story Universal
Themes are big ideas. Readers can share in your protagonist’s struggle with the theme, even though the reader may not experience the specifics of investigating a crime.
The theme may be a complex idea, but the specifics of your story anchor the theme with the characters and their opinions and reactions. Those specifics help your reader understand your attitude—as expressed through your characters—toward the theme.
Add Deeper Meaning to Your Story
When you add a complex concept to your story, you give your reader ideas to ponder. Your reader, like your protagonist, will have ideas about the theme and emotional reactions to your attitude in your story.
Your theme adds a dimension beyond the search for the villain. You’ll enrich your characters as they wrestle with the theme. And your story becomes more intellectually complex.
Find Your Theme
You may start your story with a theme in mind or you may not know your theme until you finish the manuscript.
If you base your story on plot or character, for instance, you may find as you write that your protagonist keeps encountering the same theme. But you didn’t consciously start with the theme in mind.
Theme as Unifying Element
By showing each character’s slightly different experience and perception of events, you can eplore the theme from different viewpoints. Even though each character is a separate strand in your story, by addressing the theme from different viewpoints, your unite the separate strands with your theme.
Make The Abstract Concrete
While your theme is an abstract concept, you help the reader approach difficult and complex subjects through the concrete thoughts and actions of your characters.
When you show your characters grappling with your theme through their actions you keep the theme within the frame of the story. You’ll avoid a heavy handed, moralistic sermon. After all, you reader is there for a story not a lecture about morality.
Start With Your Mystery’s Big Theme
If you are at a loss for a theme in your mystery, start with the big mystery theme of the search for the truth. Write your story. You may surprise yourself with the theme you convey.
Your protagonist may grapple with political corruption, or corporate corruption, or selfish greed, or manipulation of children. Often, in a mystery, your villain may be the embodiment of the theme you want to address.
Does your mystery have a theme? Let me know in the comments.
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