One of my sister Prairie Roses, Gail Jenner, wrote a blog on April 6th (Easter, Spring...Thoughts on the Season) that prompted me to look inward at my own writing, which is the topic of my essay today. You can read her blog in its entirety here:
This is the excerpt that resonated with me.
[Gail wrote:] Last night I decided that even the most trivial story carries an element of something deeper, or does it? Are we satisfied with the words we select and with the stories and/or themes we portray? Is it any accident that certain stories resonate with us and demand to be heard?
My response to this metaphorical question is, no, it isn't an accident that certain stories resonate with us, both as readers and as writers. Stories that stay with us long after we've read THE END are stories in which the author has masterfully crafted all the elements that make up a story. For a quick creative writing lesson, these elements are:
Of these story-structure components, theme is the glue that holds the story together. To take Gail's thoughts about theme and take them down my own metaphorical path, theme is the message the author intends (consciously or subconsciously) to communicate to the reader.
It's not uncommon for an author to write all their stories around one or two themes. As readers, we turn to stories with themes that "speak" to us. Think about those few special books that stay with you. What is at the heart of the story that makes it so memorable? Identifying that 'something' can be elusive. We can't quite get our hands on it, but we know it at an instinctive, visceral level, and we return for more.
I know my theme. It's loneliness. Not being lonesome, not being alone, not being lonely, but the utter hopeless agonizing heartache of loneliness.
Loneliness shows up in every story I write. I can't not keep it out. But where did this loneliness come from?
Perhaps it was my only-child upbringing until I was 13, or that I was a loner all through school (still am) with few friends. Experiencing a difficult mother/teenage daughter relationship may also have influenced my feelings of loneliness. Could my tendency toward loneliness stem from the traumatic brain injury I suffered at 18 and the resulting *holes* it left in my life from the loss of many of my childhood memories? Or did an early, and ultimately disastrous marriage, and then raising three children on my own have something to do with it? Other factors could have been my battle with clinical depression (eventually won that war) throughout my twenties and into my thirties only to have panic/anxiety attacks muscle past the depression.
Maybe there are no reasons.
Maybe it’s a combination of all my experiences.
Maybe it’s just how I’m hardwired.
Whatever the reasons (real or imagined), it's no wonder I titled my first published novel, Lonely Places. It was published about 27 years after I started it. Lonely Places is the work of my heart in which I poured my fears; my fist-raised-to-the-sky-anger at life's challenges; my hanging onto my rope of hopefulness in the face of hopelessness; and, ultimately, my ever present feelings of loneliness. The story is largely autobiographical, although set in the Old West of the late 1800s. I wrote this story for me. I self-medicated (so-to-speak) through writing. I wrote to keep hold of my sanity when I thought I’d suffocate from what life was throwing my way. But, this story survived as I survived. It matured as I matured. I didn’t give up on this story, and it helped me not to give up on me.
[Aside] Just in case you’ve grabbed a tissue—not to worry. I had a fun/good childhood, and I’ve lived a satisfying, adventure-filled life, so don’t break out the sad violin music just yet. *grin*
Now, for your loneliness listening angst, here is Marty Robbins with Mr. Shorty, which is, at its core theme, a story about the hopeless isolation of loneliness. This verse, beginning at 40 seconds into the song, is the part that gets to me every time.
There in his blue eyes was sadness
That comes from the need of a friend
And tho' he tried, he still couldn't hide
The loneliness there, deep within.
[Another Aside] Lonely Places, with a sequel in the works, is currently out-of-publication and undergoing 2nd edition revision.
So, my questions for you are...
As a writer, if you have a recurring theme that runs through your stories? (share?? *hint hint*)
As a reader, are you drawn to stories with certain themes? What about these stories speaks to you so you keep coming back for more?
Until next time,
Twitter - @kayespencer