Have you ever read a story – even a full-length novel – and wondered “so what?” Okay, some guys rob a bank and in the end they all die in a hail of bullets. Or geeky boy meets hot girl and loses her due to a falsehood, but they get back together in the final chapter. Or a wealthy CEO has his job, reputation and lover stolen, but manages to climb back to the top.
There are Universal Themes found in literature. “The moral to the story,” so to speak. There are many opinions about what they are, but I like a recent post by Rachel Mork which is found here.
She lists 12 Universal Themes:1. Man struggles against nature.
2. Man struggles against societal pressure.
3. Man struggles to understand divinity.
4. Crime does not pay.
5. Overcoming adversity.
6. Friendship is dependent on sacrifice.
7. Importance of family.
8. Yin & Yang: Just when you think life is finally going to be easy, something bad happens to balance it out.
9. Love is the worthiest of pursuits.
10. Death is part of the life cycle.
11. Sacrifice brings reward.
12. Humans all have the same needs.
Maybe I’m way off base, but I think much of the distinction between literary fiction and commercial fiction has little to do with grammar, vocabulary, style or subject matter. To me, it comes down to whether plot is primary, or whether the Universal Theme is supreme, woven through practically every page of the work.
Of course, there are other considerations. Much of genre fiction follows a fairly strict formula, and many authors of book series don’t create much of a character arc for the protagonist. But ask yourself – is a Universal Theme threaded through the novel, or is “the moral of the story” mostly an afterthought, even inferred?