Marcus Aurelius once said, “Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature?”
Okay, that wasn’t Marcus Aurelius, it was Hannibal Lecter paraphrasing Aurelius, but Thomas Harris is actually brilliant, and his distillation of the about eleven paragraphs Aurelius actually wrote in Meditations is a valid one.
Your work is more than just a story; like every good story, yours should be a story with a point. And the point isn’t to get the girl (or boy, or ambulatory artichoke or whatever the kids are into these days) the point is the central issue of your story.
What are you trying to say?
If you’ve read my work (and who hasn’t? I’m required reading in most major universities in my head) you know that I write like someone who has the attention span of a hummingbird on cocaine. I’ve written urban fantasy, science fiction, crime thrillers, spy novels, literary fiction, poetry, and musicals (those are unavailable. Because oh my god,) as well as over fifty short stories. I have many interests, and I want to tell many stories.
But no matter what’s at stake, the fate of the world or just a bag of jewels, my work all has a theme.
I’ll wait while you groan and moan. Also, why are you dead inside?
I think that the meaning of the universe is the meaning we make between ourselves. And that meaning is most often manifested as love. And the thing that interests me is the same gaudy, showy, stupid thing you see in all kinds of movies and books and television where, despite the dire nature of whatever’s blowing up or however many giant robotic lizards are trying to take over Chicago, there’s always a love interest, or a love triangle, or a love story.
I think even terrible, cheaply-made, poorly-written pop art (Like yours, egotistical author? How about UP yours, jerkhole heckler in my head.) taps into this fundamental meaning. I think that’s why no matter how badly-made, people still see the hero and heroine (or whomever) get together, and think, “Aw.”
What interests me enough to manifest itself in all my work is the idea that love exists not because of what’s happening, but in spite of it. Almost as though the plot is itself beside the point. I don’t write about crisis bringing people together. I write about crisis, and people happen to get together in between shooting things, or stealing things, or blowing things up. Life goes on even in the midst of chaos.
That’s the theme behind all my work. Everything else is just flash and dazzle. That’s what _I_ want to say. That in the end, love gives the world around us meaning, even if only by contrast.
So figure out what YOU want to say. Look at your work, figure out the message that means something to you. You may find (Like I did, honestly) that you didn’t even realize you were doing it, that you had no idea you felt that way.
And it doesn’t need to be a common thread in every piece. It can be different every time.
Telling a good story is about crafting many different layers. You should have several things going on all the time, and not all of them will be visible all the time, but they’re there, if you try to make them there.
You don’t HAVE to. A good story is a good story, and sometimes, a simple story is the best way to take the edge off after a long day.
But the ones that will stick with you (both your own and others) are the ones that have a point to make.