~ Stephen King, On Writing
I don't know what that quote says to you, but to me it says:
Writers write so that buyers will buy and then readers can read what they wrote.
It's a pretty simple formula, really, but the great bugaboo is getting the buyer to buy in the first place. So...what makes a 'good' novel, one that will rivet a buyer? Is it the characters? The plot line? Fresh prose? A snappy voice? These are all crucial elements that can make or break a book, but I suspect it's something deeper. Something primal. A nebulous kind of glue that holds together characters & plot which either strengthens or weakens a book. What is it? Well, I think it can be boiled down to:
A great story hinges on theme.
Whether it's forefront in a reader's mind or floating in the netherworld of the subconscious, everyone wants to read a "feel good" kind of book. Something must happen by the end of the story that makes us want to cheer. In some respect, good must prevail over evil, or at least the hope that good will eventually win out. If this isn't part of a book, then in all likelihood, it's not going to be labeled as great.
Why? Because a great story connects with a reader at an intimate level, taking them on a journey that ends with a truth which resonates in every part of their being.
Those of you armed with can openers, put your weapons down. I'm not opening the whole isn't-truth-relative can of worms. I think that as human beings we can all agree there are viable themes which are universal, whether you're Christian, Muslim, Athiest, or a buck naked Gaya worshipper, themes such as:
And those are just a few. Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying you whack a reader over the head with your theme club. Remember the #1 rule of writing, show vs tell? Yeah, that applies here. Convey your theme through interesting characters, incredible odds, and stunning settings instead of preaching with know-it-all author intrusion. There's a reason symbolism and theme go hand-in-hand in the classics. Your story will stick with a reader longer if they internalize all the clues that point to your theme and discover it for themselves.
I'm not saying this is easy. In fact, I'm on my 5th manuscript and I've barely scratched the surface of this whole theme idea and how to pull it off. But honestly, that's one of the great things about writing. The more you write, the more you realize you don't know, which spurs you to write better on the next manuscript.