During this year’s NaNoWriMo I made the startling (to me) discovery that it was a big help to have decided the theme of the novel in advance. I don’t think this is quite the first time I’ve done this, but in this case the theme permeated the whole story to such an extent that instead of just one character being reformed by the end, I could see that another one had made big changes in his life, and yet another had made a conscious decision to change but hadn’t succeeded.
I feel that deciding on the theme is even more helpful than doing a plot outline, which I don’t like doing anyway – with my inherent lack of perfectionism, I’ve usually steered clear of outlining in case I convince myself I’ve already written the novel once I’ve outlined it.
I am sure this isn’t really a startling thing at all but something most writers already know. It’s just that in the case of ‘Crime in the Community’ I worked out the theme afterwards, and with ‘Reunited’ (or ‘Homecoming to Death’ – still can’t decide) the theme emerged as if by magic during the writing. I am hoping to build on this new insight and use themes more actively in my future work.