Use Themes to Enrich Your Novels

My super organized, left-brained engineering husband often points out themes in movies, which is surprising since he isn’t exactly artsy. He’ll say, “Notice this movie has a lot of water.” Or he’ll mention, “That film uses the color red throughout.” Once he said, “Have you noticed all the circles in this movie?” Nope. I hadn’t. At least I hadn’t until he drilled this phenomenon into my head EVERY TIME we watched a movie.

I was impressed with his observational skills and learned he took a film studies class in college. Now, it all makes sense. Studying directors, producers, and mainly the films themselves was not a requirement for his mechanical engineering degree, but this elective class has stuck with him for decades–and it inspired me. The more he talked about this concept, the more I started noticing recurring themes in movies. Now, I try to beat him to the punch so I can determine the recurring thread before he does.


I wondered how I could use this concept in my writing. When I came up with my newest contemporary romance, SLEEPING WITH ELVIS, I decided my hunky Elvis impersonator would hang out on fictional Key Lime Island between gigs. And so would his cursing parrot! (Hey, everyone needs a cursing parrot.)

With a name like Key Lime Island, the theme fell into place easily. I used key lime EVERYTHING, as well as the color lime green. Here are a few examples:

  • The cute-meet between my hero Ty, the Elvis impersonator, and Pepper, the heroine who is stranded on Key Lime Island, occurs during a key lime pie-eating contest! Who wouldn’t fall for a gorgeous guy with green fluff all over his face?
  • There’s a Key Lime B&B which sells key lime cookbooks in the lobby, has clear vases filled to the brim with limes, and of course, lime green comforters are in the guest rooms.
  • Ty and Pepper have an interesting scene at the Key Lime Ice Cream Shoppe with boasts orange, yellow, and of course, lime green chairs and a lime green awning.
  • There’s a Key Lime Marina and many beach houses use the island’s team color. You get the idea.

It’s fairly easy to incorporate a color, shape, or element such as water or fire in a novel. Just ask movie directors. They do it all the time. Why shouldn’t novelists? Have you used a recurring theme in your novel? If you haven’t incorporated this novel concept (pun intended), try it!


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About Beth Carter

Multiple award-winning novelist and children's book author. Former bank VP and hospital PR director turned pajama-wearing writer. Find me online or at Starbucks where I'll be writing while sipping a skinny vanilla latte. If I'm not there, it's possible I'm at T.J. Maxx. Happy reading! 2017 Raven Award Runner-Up for Favorite Contemporary - SLEEPING WITH ELVIS; 2015 RONE Winner and 2015 Best Debut Author - THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS.
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6 Responses to Use Themes to Enrich Your Novels

  1. Anne Cleasby says:

    It’s interesting how themes crop up. I wonder how many of us use them without noticing. I’m re-draftng a futuristic thriller at the moment and I’ve spotted the River Thames keeps appearing. It’s swollen and dangerous and a constant reminder of the dangers of a shifting climate. I didn’t realise I’d done it. Key Lime is a great concept as well – so refreshing. Thanks for this

    • Beth Carter says:

      The river would be an interesting theme throughout. You’re right. The theme might be fun and refreshing or could mean impending doom.

      Also, I’m sure many of us use them without realizing it. Good point! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Thought-provoking post! I also picked up on the “Key Lime” theme that ran through Sleeping with Elvis. Loved the book!

    • Beth Carter says:

      Thanks so much, Joanne. It was fun to write. Once I settled on the name of the island, the setting fell into place. Thanks for stopping by and for your ongoing support!

  3. gailingis says:

    Fantastic Beth. Now I’m sitting here thinking about my first book, and Charlie the mail coach driver, he keeps coming up. He was a common thread throughout the book, like glue, my character wasn’t going anywhere without Charlie. Why not people? Right? Hmm, Indigo Sky, the book’s title was the color of Leila’s eyes, so that color kept coming up, not only in her eyes. Wow, this is fun. Now, at the beginning of my second book, I have a talking parrot. I’m thinking, I’m thinking. Genius, it’s genius. Beth, you’re a genius, thanks for sharing. And please, thank the hubby, can’t forget those guys.

    • Beth Carter says:

      Ha! I’m glad you’re having fun with themes, Gail. Yes, they could be a person, animal, sound (like scary music), ghost, hat, shape, color, or just about anything!

      Btw, I have a cursing, talking parrot in SLEEPING WITH ELVIS. Her name is Saylor. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by.

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