The Hidden Layer

Every story has a grain of truth inside it, but only the discerning reader cracks open the nut to find that seed inside.

Ever since my holidays have begun, my rate of reading novels has sky-rocketed and I’m fresh off finishing the Bartimaeus sequence by Jonathan Stroud right now. For those who haven’t read it, it has the potent mix of humour, adventure, good characterization and fast-paced plot to ensnare your mind. I know it’s going to be a while before I pick up another fantasy book as it has given me a lot to mull over. Narrated mostly from the viewpoint of the djinni Bartimaeus, some of the lightly thrown yet meaningful comments that this thousand-year-old magical being weighs on your mind long after you close the book. This led me to think about the subtle underlying layer that all good stories contain without exception.

All seasoned writers know that the recipe for a great book consists of essential ingredients such as a unique idea, a sound plot and relatable characters. However, I am of the opinion that for a story to be remembered, it has to have a theme that resonates with the average reader. Keeping in mind that anybody from around the globe can pick up any book they fancy, the theme must be universal in its appeal. For example, the Bartimaeus sequence makes a mockery of the greed of human society and our relentless lust for power. Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot impresses upon the reader the importance of saving the beings we share this world with. While some have tugged at my heartstrings and opened my mind about sensitive emotional issues (A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini springs to my mind), many get me thinking about pressing issues such as the effect of the growing population (Inferno by Dan Brown) and our over-reliance on technology in our everyday lives (a very tenuous theme in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien, especially in The Two Towers).

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For those writers who are just getting started on their literary projects, an essential fact to keep in mind is that stories that stick around long after they have become bestsellers have the ability to weave ideas that transcend time and connect with human minds on a level that is beyond that of printed paper and binding. While all stories tend to be social commentaries in some form or another, some do have that deeper layer of meaning that can be interpreted and imagined in several different ways. Consider this as the special dash of spice that elevates a dish from delicious to memorable. There are a million options to choose from, but the subtlety with which it is incorporated into the plot is what sets apart a talented writer from the mediocre ones. The theme, ideally, shouldn’t be so overbearing that the book reads like a sermon, but not as fleeting as lightning across a stormy sky.

I struggled for years to pick a theme that would go well with the novel that I’ve been trying to write ever since I turned 10 and discovered my inclination towards fantasy. While I have my characters fleshed out and a fairly unique concept, the perfect theme that I could seamlessly integrate with the tone of the story had been eluding me for a long time. If you have felt the same way for a long time about your piece, I have discovered one method that is sure to help you out. I have found that reading diverse books miles away from the genre you’re comfortable with and trying to identify the author’s viewpoint gives a diverse range to pick from. But even that is useless without the secret ingredient called feeling. Always choose a cause that is close to your heart, that makes you cry out in outrage or sing with happiness on the inside. Books are an expression of the author’s innermost beliefs and thoughts, so your work should reflect that, or it will ring hollow to your audience.


Any thoughts on the matter? I’d love to hear what fellow authors have to say. Readers, what themes have you discovered in the books that you’ve read. Leave a comment below and let me know.

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8 thoughts on “The Hidden Layer

  1. Dropped right of the community pool after seeing your target audience is writers….that would be me 🙃

    Well, I try at least…not for me to say I’m any good obviously, that would indeed be churlish…readers can judge better than I 🤔

    Where was I? Oh yes, community pool….popped over to have a look round and love what I see….hope you don’t mind a new follower 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mind? Never! Take a look around. I hope you enjoy the rest of it as well.
      I’m sure you’re a lot better than you think you are. We all writers feel that way about ourselves. It’s comments like these that make me feel better about what I put across. 🙂 I will make sure to leave some for you as soon as I can!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I intend to 🙃
        You are so right too….it’s one reason I hunt down writers to link up with…positive engagement and all that….they understand and offer the best support and feedback…also helps me get involved with brilliant communities too 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved your ideas about writing. I love fantasy (reading and writing), but recently I’ve discovered that what I really like is called dystopian fantasy. The project I’m developing is one about a character being transported to another dimension by “accident”. I’m enjoying every bit of it. Thanks a lot for the tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I also love themes in stories, but I think it’s difficult to consciously write a story’s first draft around a theme. You almost have to let the story unfold naturally (regardless of whether you plot or pants your stories) and focus on the plot, characters, setting, etc. before you can hone the story and let the underlying messages emerge.

    That said, I think the key to knowing your story’s themes is ensuring your protagonist has a goal to work toward. Tying in their fears and/or desires with the plot in a logical way will make the protagonist invested in the outcome of their journey, and quite often the concepts driving those fears / desires / goals turn into the story’s themes.

    I actually have a column about literary themes at DIY MFA. Some articles are case studies on literary themes in published novels; others share advice on how storytelling techniques can help us identify themes in the stories we write. Would you like a link to the first article? Or maybe the DIY MFA index page on my site, so you can check out whichever posts catch your attention first?

    Liked by 1 person

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