By Suzanne J. Bratcher
“Do you know the theme of a story before you write it?” When a reader asked me that question, I answered “yes.” While I don’t always know the exact passage that will surface as the key verse, I know the theme will be an invitation to a deeper faith.
Even though my answer seemed to satisfy that reader, his question rattled around in my head for several days. My answer was accurate, but I knew there was more to my experience with theme than that. To figure out what I was missing, I revisited each of my books to examining the specific themes.
The Copper Box started with a setting—Jerome, Arizona. Dubbed “the largest ghost town in America,” the setting needed a plot with characters battling ghosts. I don’t believe in Halloween ghosts, but most of us are haunted by something. In The Copper Box Marty Greenlaw is haunted by her dead sister, Paul Russell by his dead wife. As I wrote Paul and Marty’s story, the Apostle Paul’s declaration “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal…” (Phil 3: 13-14, NRSV) echoed in my mind. It wasn’t only Marty and Paul who needed to forget what lay behind. I needed to forget the two dead marriages that haunted me.
In The Silver Lode Marty and Paul’s story continues. Having successfully left the past behind, they must now embrace a future neither one expected. As I worked on this mystery, the story of the new vessel the potter makes from the clay of the ruined pot (Jer 18:1-4) whispered to me. Multiple Sclerosis had ruined the future I expected, but I was still clinging to that old dream. Just like Marty and Paul, I needed to allow God to reshape my future into a new design.
I didn’t hear the message God had for me in Kokopelli’s Song until I was editing the final draft. A YA fantasy based on Hopi folklore, I never imagined God would have anything to teach me with that novel. But as I polished Amy/Kaya’s journey following the song of creation to weave together the threads of her past in Virginia and in Hopiland, I realized I needed to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit to weave together the threads of my teaching and the threads of my writing.
My work-in-progress is The Gold Doubloons (book 3 in the Jerome mysteries). In this story Paul and Marty’s foster son Reed struggles toward faith, and they must learn how to support him on his journey. The scripture that’s emerging is 1st Corinthians 13: 13: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” At first, I didn’t see how the theme of this story could apply to me. I’m well past the child rearing stage, even for foster children, and I don’t have any grandchildren. Then a few days ago, after a phone conversation with a friend who is struggling toward faith, I saw God might have something to teach me with this story after all.
Like Elijah, I expect God to speak to me in a dramatic event like an earthquake or a fire (1 Kings 19:11-13). However, as I look back at the themes of my books, I hear God whispering to me in silence, the silence I must embrace to find the theme in my stories. What about you—what has God whispered to you in the silence of your themes?Like God did with Elijah, God whispers to us in the silence we must embrace to find the theme in our stories. @AuthorBratcher #ACFWBlogs #writetip #ChristianFiction #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet
Professor Emeritus, Northern Arizona University, Suzanne J. Bratcher lives in central Arkansas. A passionate reader since her first encounter with Dick and Jane, she delights in spinning adventure tales set in the majestic, mysterious Southwest. Visit her webpage at https://suzannebratcher.com. Follow her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/authorsuzannebratcher and on Instagram at https://instagram.com/suzanne.bratcher.5/