Themes that Keep Showing Up in My Writing
After you've been writing a while, you start to notice patterns. Maybe it's a type a character, a location, or a symbol. These recurring themes speak not only to your style of writing but to the kind of person you are beyond the keyboard. Maybe they're motifs in your imagination and your real life. Whatever the reason, here are themes that keep showing up in my own writing. A true window into my mind.
Sense of Place
As a reader, I hate it when the author fails to describe the setting for the novel. Sometimes they give a generic name. Other times they'll describe the location as "somewhere in Ohio," or wherever it may be. This really bothers me because it's such a missed opportunity to establish the mood of the book. There are no regional quirks. No weird cuisines or slang or dialect. What can you glean about a town named Elmwood or Springfield or Centerville? Nothing. (No offense if you live in a town with any of these names. Your town just has a boring name.)
Here's an interesting one. Without realizing it until now, cars play a pivotal part in my storytelling. The opening scene of my first book takes place in a car, and a few meaningful conversations take place in the car between the main character and her step-dad-to-be.
Most of my second book takes place in a car, and the main characters are both into classic cars. This book also features meaningful--often painful and vulnerable--conversations in the car.
Lastly, the main character of my third book is afraid to learn how to drive, and some of the most dramatic scenes take place while he's driving.
But Alyssa, you don't know anything about cars. Why do they keep cropping up? That's anyone's guess, dear reader. Mine is that I have an affinity for driving, especially if it's through the Adirondack mountains with an oddly specific playlist curated for my exact mood at that exact time.
This one is the most random and certainly the most embarrassing since I don't even watch hockey (I keep telling myself I'm gonna get into hockey soon. Like, definitely next year or the one after that. Go Sabres). Boys who play hockey have been featured in two out of my three books, and they usually become my favorite characters.
There are eight billion people in this world. With that many people competing for his attention, what are the chances your crush likes you back? Not good, my friend, not good. He probably doesn't even know you exist, to be honest.
Think about it. Unrequited love (or unrequited interest, at the very least) is far more likely and relatable than books would have us believe. I'm here to bring that realism (and heartbreak).
Platonic Boy-Girl Relationships
On that same token, what's wrong with good old friendship? Where are the characters who aren't interested in anyone and are simply content being single? Where are the characters who have friends of the opposite sex and there's no chemistry there at all? Why does everybody have to like everybody? Don't get me wrong, I love a good love triangle (or two or three), but let's try the friendship thing for once.
You think that this one would be inevitable in all YA books, but oftentimes it feels like parents don't even exist because they're dead or deadbeats. Even if they're decent parents, they're usually floating in the background with no personality and no influence on their kids.
I like writing about teens who actually have a relationship with their parents--teens who are influenced by their parents' decisions, personality, and interests. Our parents shape who we become, good or bad. Why don't we see that in YA?
All the main characters in my books have distinct, specific relationships with at least one of their parents. I try to make sure it affects the plot in tangible ways, too.
The kind of relationships kids don't have with their parents tells us a lot about them, too. Fatherlessness is the force driving my first book and is quite prevalent in my second book, too.
I know why this one is here. Growing up, a good number of my friends did not have their dads around, and this always broke me (my dad is a tad dramatic, but he's one of the good ones). I write protagonists without fathers because it's the best way I can sympathize with those friends (and one-fourth of the population).
I love this one because I'd never even had a pet until this August (see below, me cuddling with my puppy Sasha). Regardless, I've always been a big dog and cat person. My first book features a cat and the second and third books have dogs. Not only are these fuzzy little cuties roaming around in the background, but they also serve as critical symbols for the biggest themes in the book. More specifically, they mirror the main characters' hurt, trauma, and neglectedness.
(Sasha is not a fan of cuddling or even petting, really, but I caught her in a rare mood this time. We were like this for about ten minutes and it was so therapeutic).
Nostalgia is my favorite trademark in my writing because it's such a big part of what interests me and influences my aesthetic. All three of my books have someone who either loves vintage fashion and culture in the modern era or is actually living in a past era. Sprinkled everywhere are mentions of old music, cars, TV shows, hairstyles, and clothes.
I'm also big on flashback and backstory, and characters reflecting on their childhood years. If I'm not too careful with this, the story becomes too backstory-heavy, and I have to pare down, but I'm supremely interested in the concept of memory and what kind of feelings those memories illicit.
Unlikable Main Characters
Last but not least, I cannot resist writing a good unlikable character. They're more interesting to me and way more fun to write than characters who follow all the rules. I also like to think that I challenge the reader's compassion and patience by writing someone who is wholly unlikeable but wholly human. Blatantly flawed but painfully relatable.
I also love, love, love writing villainous heroes or antiheroes. The protagonist of my first book has a real mean girl streak and is totally unapologetic in how she treats and judges her peers. The protagonist of my second book is straight-up obnoxious and bratty. The characters in my third book are generally more likable, but one of them has a redemptive arc and becomes a real hero by the end.
That's all, folks.
What kind of trends keep recurring in your own fiction?