Writers are often told, write what you know. There is a lot of misconception about what this means. Granted, there are writers out there who use their professions to advantage in their novels. But the resulting story often involves suspense situations the writer never experienced. In other cases, authors write about professions, situations, and time periods they only know about from extensive research. I can't possibly know first-hand what it was like to be an aristocrat in Regency England. What I have done is research the period thoroughly with books and visits to period mansions and to museums. This, however, is not the most critical aspect of writing what you know.
In my opinion, writing what you know means writing about what matters to you. I don't mean in a biographical sense, but rather writing what you've learned as a result of life experience. For example, when I first conceived the idea of How to Court a Duke, I started with a question. What happens to a woman who makes a life-changing mistake at a very young age? Why did this matter to me? Because I made a huge mistake when I married at age nineteen. The repercussions from that decision had a big impact on my life. The novel, however, is not representative of the events in my life. Instead, the themes that emerged resulted from my own life experiences and what I learned as a result. The major themes of the book deal with betrayal and forgiveness. Did I knowingly include them? No. The process was entirely subconscious.
I've heard several published authors talk about recurring themes in their novels, themes they only recognize when the novel is finished. Theme is about what characters learn. Theme is connected to the character's internal conflicts, conflicts that must be resolved in order for the protagonist to find peace, happiness, or in the case of a romance novel, lasting love. In some novels such as literary fiction, the character may never resolve his/her issues, which in itself suggests theme. It's realistic if you consider people who make the same mistakes over and over again. You shake your head and think: They never learn.
In romance, there is a fairy tale quality in the happily ever after aspect, which is suggested at the book's end. This doesn't mean the novels are not complex. I think readers are smart enough to deduce that the characters they fall in love with would likely argue and have issues as life continues. The point is that the hero and heroine have conquered their past demons, which allow them to form a lasting relationship in a healthy manner.
I unknowingly began How to Court a Duke with the kernal of a theme. The question popped into my head, and in the writing of the book, I subconsciously uncovered themes that meant something to me personally. These themes have a universal resonance. Who has not suffered some form of betrayal? Who has not sought forgiveness or had to bestow it?
Tell me, what themes do you find in your novels?