I don’t read novels for their themes. I read them for the stories they tell. Half the time, I couldn’t tell you what the theme of a particular story is. I think people put too much emphasis on things like that.
I have always hated it when English teachers ask what we think the author meant by his/her book. I always wanted, but never did, to say, “Well, I think he/she wanted to tell a damned good story.” That’s what I think they want to do. A lot of time, people see things in novels, plays and poetry that the author of the work never put in the poem, novel or play.
Each person sees something different in a poem, but if what they see is close enough, then that’s what the poet intended. Poetry is completely different from prose. Poets put themes and imagery into their poems, that’s what poetry is – a communication of the senses. Prose is either just communication, in terms of nonfiction, or an attempt to entertain, in terms of fiction. That’s all there is too it. I suppose there are some themes that enter the story; I once put in a ton of emotion into an essay and was unconscious of doing so. It got me an A though, so I didn’t say anything. I think the teacher read more into my essay than I had intended. I think I’m better off not thinking about it. Otherwise, I will be tempted to overdo it and that can be fatal.
I will only state that I have no conscious intent to add anything other than the story to my stories when I write them. I don’t honestly think any other author does so either. There may be a theme in the story, but it is very lightly applied. Think of a wash on art, that kind of light.
Take my current work in progress. I think my theme is that there has to be a balance between thinking and doing and too much of either is not a good thing, but I am not going to belabor the point. Others may disagree. However, there comes a time when you have to stop thinking and do something. That’s all there is to it. That’s what my point in the work will be. One character will stop thinking too much and the other will start thinking a bit more. That’s simplistic, neither is that one-dimension, at least I hope not. They will have to overcome their initial behaviors of they won’t reach their goal in the story. If I were to let that happen, I would fail as a writer.
I’m not saying that theme isn’t important. I’m only stating that it shouldn’t overshadow the story. If that happens, the author has failed and the story will too. That’s why I try to identify my theme when I write something, but I don’t think about it while writing the piece. That’s what works for me but it may not work for another author.