A few months ago, I was challenged by another author’s blog to take a look at each of my stories and identify the 7 most common themes among them. Since I write mostly romantic fiction set in northern Minnesota, I wasn’t surprised to find recurring elements like lakes, summer, resorts, romance…you get the gist. But I noticed several spiritual and personal themes that kept popping up in my characters’ backstories, such as the death of one or both parents, or a struggle with faith and trusting God. It’s no mystery to me why I would include such elements in my stories. My own father died when I was 11, and that loss is the single-most influential event in my early spiritual life. If not for the death of my father, I never would’ve become a Christian. My mom remarried 18 months after my dad passed away, and my step-dad is the one who introduced my mom and me to Christ. From an early age, I realized that God used these seemingly “bad” things in our lives for good and for spiritual growth. So of course I’m going to have my characters go through things that will enable their growth (it’s part of the character arc, you know).
On the other hand, I will probably never have a character in any of my books who loses a child. While this is something that I have also experienced, I’d rather not write about it in my fiction novels. For me it’s untouchable. Sacred. It’s not something I find entertaining, having lived through it in “real life,” yet the spiritual implications of this loss, such as a major faith struggle, will be evident in each of my stories. I understand what it’s like to doubt God, to question whether or not He cares or if He answers prayer. I’ve been there.
A while back I was featured on a blog to promote my latest short story. I made the comment that I wrote about my own life in a non-fiction book, and that was the only book I would ever write that would be autobiographical. I didn’t want my own life to inspire any more books. Another author laughed and said, “Good luck with that.” And you know what? She was right. It would be a monumental task to keep my personal life from seeping into my fiction writing. Whether we try to or not, our own lives will show up in our fictional characters. Our struggles, our insecurities, our passions will come creeping into the made-up story worlds we create. And that’s ok. That’s what gives the stories depth and heart. That’s how we develop our own unique style, our “voice.”
I challenge you to take a look at your stories and jot down the most common themes among them. Where do you think they came from? Why are these elements important for you to include? I’d love to hear from you!