Theme or Story: What Comes First?

Which comes first, the theme or the story?

Someone asked me that recently as I autographed her book. Did I find a verse or theme in the Bible and wrap a story around it?

The answer from others would probably be different. Chances are, they’ve had a nudge from the Lord before they start writing. But I had to say no. I write the story first. Then, amazingly, a Biblical theme always comes to mind after I finish, as if God’s reading over my shoulder and telling me what my story’s about.

Here’s the rundown:

The SimulacrumIn The SimulacrumBrad and I patterned the book after Dan Brown’s The DiVinci Code and pitted creationists against evolutionists, taking the side of the creationists.

Brad’s research for this book was amazing. Arguments in favor of intelligent design aren’t getting near the attention they should, nor are the evidences that pull evolution into question.

Our action-packed conspiracy thriller was fun for this romance/women’s fiction author to write. It isn’t every day I get to write of gun battles on raging rivers or boxing scenes in air planes. Rare treat! Once we finished and the action had subsided, the theme was all too obvious: In the beginning, God created . . .   (Genesis 1:1).

The Cat Lady's SecretThe Cat Lady’s Secret was supposed to be just a fun story. Emily Taylor went to extremes to hide from her past. But a curious journalist brings the past to her — just as she and her high school sweetheart are reuniting.

Once her past smashes against her present, pandemonium sets in. Feelings are hurt. The silent treatment hits in full force. What to do?

The subplot involves a young man and his estranged father in a great story about a father’s love.

After I finished writing The Cat Lady’s Secret, it dawned on me that everyone in the story has someone they have to forgive. This wasn’t my intent as I wrote it, but it turned out great. The verse? . . . as we forgive those who trespass against us (Matthew 6:12).

GiveTheLadyARide_2016 KindleGive the Lady a Ride was also supposed to be “just a fun story,” but God apparently had other plans.

As I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about Patricia Talbert’s past conversion to Christianity. I’m serious — it just came out. I was typing along, and next thing I knew I’d written that she had been converted at a Billy Graham Crusade when she was much younger. Then, as she grew up, she became more engaged in her secular life and neglected her spiritual one.

By the time she became a widow in her 20s, she’d been separated from God for many years. Meeting Talon Carlson, learning about her aunt Loretta and uncle Jake and the faith they had — all of this worked together to make her want to return to her faith. But would God accept her?

Believe me, when I realized this theme was coming through the story, I had a lot of serious rewriting to do to blend it in, but blend it I did:   . . . for He is faithful and just to forgive. (1 John 1:9).

The Final Ride coverWhen I finished my newest, The Final Ride, I really didn’t think it had a Biblical theme.

Basically, in this story, Aunt Adele tries to lure Patricia back to Manhattan, and Talon fights the urge to ride bulls again, thereby making him break his promise not to ride and probably pushing her to do as her aunt wishes.

The story is hilarious and was a total blast to write but, so far as I knew at the time, didn’t have a Christian theme at all.

Just in time to send the manuscript to my formatter, I began thinking of what Patricia and Talon face together in this novel, and a verse entered my head — my bruised head because I smacked it. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).

I admire those who can create contemporary novels out of Biblical themes and verses before sitting to write their stories. But regardless of your genre or audience–whether you write for the mainstream or Christians–you may not know your theme until it surfaces from your completed manuscript.

So tell me: What comes first for you — the theme or the story?

Don’t forget to watch for me!

Thursday, July 14: Pamela S. Meyer’s blog

Friday, July 15: Norma Gail’s 2Me from Him

Monday, July 18: Speaking engagement in Franklin, Texas

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Give the Lady a Ride, The Cat Ladys Secret, The Final Ride, The Simulacrum, write tips, Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Theme or Story: What Comes First?

  1. I smiled when I saw this title in my inbox. I’m currently working on the themes in Dreambreaker. It’s different with that book, of course, because it’s a sequel, but, generally, I’m like you: the story comes first and I find the theme that’s inherent within it.

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  2. kassyparis says:

    Like you, I write and then find the Biblical theme.

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  3. Mirkwood says:

    I too like to work out the story first. I don’t pay much attention to theme in the early stages and first draft, to make sure I don’t focus on the wrong things. Though I’ve yet to get to a point in rewriting where I need to work on theme.

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  4. I usually come up with a concept and then a title. At that point the theme emerges, all before I write a single word. Whatever works, right? 🙂

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