Today we have an amazingly insightful guest blog from author Donna Del Oro. Whether you’re a reader or an author, I think you’re going to love this post. Donna, welcome, and take it away!
THEMATIC SUB-TEXTS IN YOUR NOVEL: HOW THEY ENRICH — Donna Del Oro
How can you improve and deepen your basic story idea? Besides plot and characterization, how can themes, both major and minor, enrich a work of fiction?
Think about the stories you read as a child. We were taught to draw the “moral of the story” in almost every case. Think about the American Literature classics you’ve read. For example, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. In addition to their stories of war, greed, love and hardship, the great universal themes of literature were imbedded, either consciously or subconsciously by the authors. Their primary objective, no doubt, was to write a compelling story that many—even millions of readers—might enjoy. However, secondary to their objective was the expression of their outlook or philosophy of life. A truth about the human condition.
There are several important themes in For Whom the Bell Tolls: The harsh reality of war and how it kills the individual; That a special love can still survive the horrors of war; That courage and grace under immense stress and danger are the ideals of the average man. Hemingway was a proponent of SHOW, DON’T TELL. He was one of the first American novelists to reveal his characters through mainly action and dialogue. Since his dialogue was sparse, revelations via action was his stock in trade.
His main character, an American journalist who volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, is a reflective man whose survival in the war depends more on his ability to run, shoot and hide than his ability to write. While aware of the deep significance of what’s going on around him, he knows in the circumstances of the war, his individuality is lost. If he is to survive, he must act like a soldier, one of many, rather than an individual. After all, the “bell tolls for thee.” Death is sudden and random. So he acts and speaks, runs, shoots, makes love—when he can—and shows us through his actions how resigned he is to his fate.
The way I plan and plot my books are neither as a plotser or pantser, in the current writers’ colloquialism. It’s simply the way I think creatively. Rather than begin with characters or setting or a conflict idea, I begin with a dominant theme. The conflicts and characters grow from that thematic starting point.
Before I began to write my first book, OPERATION FAMILIA, I knew what my themes were: Family is important and helps to determine one’s identity and self-worth; Know thyself; To thine ownself be true (to paraphrase the old Bard). My main character, Dina Salazar struggles in her quest to find herself—even changes her name—but ultimately, by risking her very life, proves to herself that the search is all important. Moreover, she proves to her family that she’s not a “desgraciada” but a woman of true worth. Which bears out another theme of the book: Only through tests of character is one’s true identity revealed. Dina’s forbearance, patience and compassion are tested in addition to her courage throughout the story, and the climax of the book—when she enters a Mexican drug cartel’s lair–is the final test. Rescuing her Mexican cousins becomes for Dina a true test of her self-worth and her identity.
In my romantic thriller, A BODYGUARD OF LIES, I began with the basic theme of retribution and justice. Though justice is blind, she has a long memory. So FBI analyst Jake Bernstein believes as he is called to go undercover and investigate a naturalized American grandmother suspected of war crimes during World War II. That he is Jewish-American is part of his identity, and losing all of his grandfather’s German family during the Holocaust adds to his deep need for ultimate justice. However, he is a 21sst Century American male, first and foremost, a former Navy SEAL, a conservative male with a condo and stock portfolio. Balance and objectivity are his mottos in life. His undercover assignment becomes an unexpected test of those very mottos. Can he remain objective when the target’s lovely granddaughter has captured his heart, or at least his libido? Does justice really matter after sixty-five years? He has a difficult time believing that old, wrinkled and frail Mary McCoy Snider was really a ruthless Nazi spy, code named Hummingbird. That she conspired to murder the real Mary McCoy and take her place in Churchill’s War Office seems ludicrous to him. The reader knows differently, though.
Ultimately, Jake must decide whether justice prevails or whether the passage of time and the change of circumstance rule over human nature. He faces a crisis of conscience that shocks him, for he’s always viewed himself as a black-and-white kind of man with a righteous zeal.
For me as an author, these universal themes are my guiding lights, the beacons that direct me as I write and develop the characters and conflicts. Everything in the story generates from those themes. This is where the story begins for me.
Whatever works is the general rule of thumb. For me this is what works.
BODYGUARD OF LIES | about the book
A BODYGUARD OF LIES (release: Jan. 13th) has a dual setting, a contemporary one and a WWII/London setting. It’s a blend of romance, mystery and WWII espionage. I researched it while in England, Ireland and Germany in 2009. The story involves a Jewish-American FBI analyst, who’s recruited by MI-5 to go undercover and investigate a naturalized American grandmother. The elderly woman is suspected by MI-5 of being a notorious Nazi spy never caught by the Allies during the war, who caused the deaths of thousands and is wanted for war crimes. Jake Bernstein runs into a series of unexpected obstacles and complications: This spy knows a secret that could endanger the royal family; the old woman has a beautiful granddaughter who threatens to derail his investigation; a neo-Nazi group in Ireland known as the Celtic Wolves; and a clever, cagey old woman who’s not as weak as she looks.
DONNA DEL ORO | about the author
Donna Del Oro spent her childhood in two places, Silicon Valley, CA and the countryside of East Texas, as her father tried several job opportunities. Finally settling in Silicon Valley, she grew up in a bilingual, bicultural world–Spanish on her mother’s side and English on her father’s. Comfortable in both worlds, she decided upon retiring from teaching to write about her Hispanic side. Four women’s fiction books resulted and a series about professional singers, their careers and love lives. Retired and devoting much of her abundant free time to exercise, writing, singing and her grandson, Donna has finally reached a point in life that totally satisfies her. Life is good and she has no complaints, just a lot of gratitude for her many blessings. Website
Donna, I’m thrilled to have you as a guest today! I enjoyed your blog and wish you all the best with your book, which has a fantastic cover, I might add. ;c) Readers, what did you think of Donna’s post? Your comments are welcome!