Tag Archives: themes in writing novels

Themes in Novel Writing ~ 6 ~ Themes to Craft an Alternative Mystery Genre Novel

Keeping up the tension in a novel ~

Typical crime mysteries

In a murder mystery themes of death, fear, hatred, evil, crime and a multitude of equally negative themes keep up the tension in a novel.

Of course, with a missing person theme, or in the case of my latest novel missing people, all of the above themes could be relevant, but they could also include kidnapping, capture, ransom, abduction and hijacking, to name but a few. The tension could be enhanced by the place which is the ‘prison’ and the dramatic way they are being held. We’ve all seen the movies.

Here’s another good post on themes in mystery novels which traces recent changes in the genre:

fmwriters.com ~ a murderous act

Thinking outside the box  v Reader Expectations

In a title like ‘MISSING’ all of the above could have been used equally to evoke drama, but that wasn’t how I planned to develop MISSING Past and Present. Gerald, Dot’s husband disappeared. He chose to leave, so what causes the tension?

Themes such as betrayal, abandonment, devastation or mental health issues for example a total break-down leading to destitution, poverty and homelessness. All of these things in fact.

Thinking ‘outside the box’ in a mystery is a risk. As one of the police in the novel said at one point in the investigation, ‘We don’t even know if a crime has been committed.’

This is not necessarily what the reader is expecting, but did it pay off?

Here are a couple of reader’s comments on reviews:

Derik Birk’s ***** review ~  An intriguing and addictive tale

“Most books I read are full of violent action but though there is very little such action in this book, I really liked this story of a woman re-inventing herself after a bewildering set of events that almost destroy her.”

Here’s the full review on Derik’s site: Dodging Arrows

H Bane ***** review ~ Really Great Book

“This is such a well written book that really just draws you in. Dorothy leads us on a journey on how she ended up where she’s at. We also have the story she writes of Millie.”

Jackie McAll ***** review ~  Is it just the roll of the dice? Super book

Diana Jackson has a way of writing that easily draws you into the lives of her characters. Although this book handles large themes of destiny and change, love and forgiveness, they are handled in an easily readable way. I loved the story within the story (deserving of a book of its own!). She saves a surprise for the end ! Highly recommended.

Both reviews are great reviews but, I’m sure you’ll agree, they are not typical of reviews in the mystery genre.

Qualities I wished for my protagonist

In order to keep these readers interested how do I think I ‘drew readers in’ or made it ‘addictive?’


Resilience and Fortitude

I believe it was the themes of fortitude and resilience, qualities of my protagonist Dot, which kept the story moving. I didn’t want Dot to be searching, in fact it was her foster son Jamal (a Syrian refugee) who took on that mantel, when his brother also disappeared and he was arrested. I wanted Dot’s strength of character to pull her through the worst of times, only just!

Another theme I could add here was escapism. Dot managed to escape the effects of her tragic circumstances by:

  • escaping into the past ~ the back story in the form of her memories
  • escaping in the present ~ through mindfulness of the natural world around her
  • escaping from even her own thoughts ~ by creating and writing the story of Millie, an aspirant nun who had lived in the place where she squatted a couple of centuries before.

Only time will tell if my gamble with ‘mystery’ worked.



Filed under Book reading, Book reviews, Marketing your novel, MISSING Past and Present, Planning a novel, Writing, Writing a novel

Themes in Novel Writing ~4 ~ Gender Inequality

This is part of a series on Themes in Writing Novels, some we chose deliberately, some we develop as the novel unfolds and others we slip into quite by chance, but Themes are certainly worth thinking about for writing the back blurb or book description and for marketing purposes, to find your target audience.

From plenglish.com

What facets of Gender equality could a writer focus on?

  • Prestige and occupation (eg A high flyer in business where it is a woman rather than a man who is corrupt)
  • Finance (There are the old cliches, a man finding a rich woman to marry, or a rich man or woman searching for love where money isn’t the main issue ~ so what more unusual theme could there be ~  maybe a man attracted to a woman who lives an alternative lifestyle where the environment is the main factor, avoiding impending disaster ~ a sort of updated ‘The Good Life’)
  • A sports event eg boxing, where a woman excels
  • A woman priest at the centre of a murder inquiry
  • Women spies have been written about but they are quite rare.

Of course these facets are mainly focused on the woman in the novel. Inequalities perceived against men are another issue. A husband beater for example or a male manicurist. Why not?

This post and the next are two opposing facets of Dorothy, my main protagonist in MISSING, Past and Present:

  • Theme 4 Gender Inequality

  • Theme 5 Fortitude and Resilience

You see Dot is a women of her time. (not necessarily of now) She defers to her husband Gerald in all things and uses female guile to get her own way, sometimes making Gerald believe it was his idea in the first place. She knows little about the household finances and is a bit old fashioned. Dot works in a library for most of her married life; a safe occupation, until she decides it is time for a life change and hits on the idea of becoming a foster parent. She knows that Gerald will not think very positively about the idea and so she begins a campaign, leaving leaflets around and adverts in magazines or in local papers on coffee tables.

As a person who has supported myself and been the bread winner on occasions through my life, she is definitely not a reflection of my own life and personality (and it is certainly not my memoir, as one reader guessed quite incorrectly.) I’m sure, however, that I share some of Dot’s traits; I think all of my main women characters have a bit of me in them if you scrutinize them carefully. One example of this is that Dot, like me, is a WASPI. (women against state pension inequality) She is 60 and will not get her pension until over 65. This would not have been too drastic if Dot had been able to continue fostering children, but when her husband disappeared, leaving her destitute, she had the sell the marital home.

In today’s world, readers and writers find it hard to conceive of an era where ladies like Dot were the norm, rather than an exception. Yet, to compensate with what could be considered as a ‘walk over’ Dot has other quailities ~ Resilience and Fortitude, discussed in my next post.

Here are two very different recent posts which might inspire you in this theme, although, in fact, they raise the bar to inspire Gender Equality rather than Inequality!

  1. They Dared to Fly ~ Laura Ingalls in the 1930’s

  2. Elizabeth Evans, Businesswoman and Philanthropist in 18th Century on English Historical Fiction Authors’ Blog

Can you think of any other unusual ways to tackle or highlight Gender Inequality in a novel either for a man protagonist or a woman? It would be great if you could share them with us.





Filed under Marketing your novel, MISSING Past and Present, Planning a novel, Research, Writing, Writing a novel

Themes in Novel Writing ~ Theme 2 ~ Mixed Marriage

If you look back at my introductory post, ‘Themes in Novel Writing’ just over  week ago, I looked at why we need to be aware of themes running through our writing. These are usually premeditated, but some creep into our plot unawares.



As I have described my initial inspiration for my new novel ‘MISSING, Past and Present’ was from my voluntary work at a  centre for the homeless in Luton, and more recently for local folks in need at Kirkcaldy Foodbank. Recently I have written several posts on this theme.


Our very own Harry and Megan


~ as a theme crept up on me as I was writing, and I even back tracked to ensure that it flowed and challenged the reader throughout the novel. How did this happen?

I had planned for two of my characters, Orla and Jamal to fall in love. Orla is an Irish Roman Catholic who runs The Ark, a centre for the homeless, with her sister Laura. Jamal, my protagonist Dorothy’s foster son, is a Muslim refugee from Syria.  It was a potential union of two beautiful people, in both appearance and personality. They were such lovely young people that I needed tension and intrigue between them in some way to give the plot a jagged edge of uncertainty.

Dorothy also lived in  refuge for a while and got to know some of the young ladies living there. It was quite natural that some of the shared their stories with her; Dot being quite motherly and the oldest resident.

After I had written this chapter, the theme MIXED MARRIAGE popped out at me and I slept on that thought. I often solve plot issues in my sleep. The next morning I back tracked and revised Dorothy’s memories of her married life with Gerald, up until he disappeared. Before they were married Dorothy had been a non practicing Jew, although her roots were deep within her psyche, but Gerald was a practicing Church of England. Dorothy agreed to attend Gerald’s church as her compromise and when homeless it was a subject she reflected on when wondering where their marriage had gone awry and in the moments when she was trying to make up her own mind as to what she now believed.

I now had two types of mixed marriages represented in my novel:

  1. Interracial marriage
  2. Interfaith marriage

and both had similar and yet very different challenges and issues.

With Megan and Harry’s interracial marriage I had high hopes that some of the problems related to the first might evaporate, given such a well known role model. If their marriage was accepted by the Royal Family, no less, surely that would benefit the race relations of the whole nation. We shall see now won’t we?


Thus MIXED MARRIAGE as a theme in my novel added:

  • tension
  • intrigue
  • a way in which the reader’s own thoughts and ideas could be challenged
  • an issue pertinent to today’s world
  • a confrontation of  inherent racism, which I will develop further in my next post
  • a way to encourage readers to empathise with the characters as they became familiar to them

I did not try to give answers and I certainly didn’t preach, just highlighted the issues arising in a natural way as they would appear in real life situations. After all, we have to go through our own journey of awareness, some steps quicker than others.


Filed under MISSING Past and Present, Planning a novel, Reading a novel, Writing a novel