What is the most important theme of all memorable stories?

Cormac McCarthy believes that all great novels dealt with life and death.

You can have as many themes as you want.

You can have as many plots as you want.

You can have as many subplots as you want.

But the story always boils down to a single conflict.

The struggle between life.

And death.

I have long read and admired the work of Cormac McCarthy. He may be, in my opinion, the best pure wordsmith writing today.

He views the landscape of our existence.

He draws upon his knowledge of our motivations:


And his novels can be described in two words.


And death.

The more I thought about it, the more I began to understand what Cormac McCarthy was talking about.

It’s not always about the beginning of life.

And the ending of life.

It takes place along the journey of life.

As I wrote in Conspiracy of Lies:

In the distance, Lincoln could see a pair of running lights cut narrow slits through a gray haze that rose up from the desert floor like a fine mist.

They must have come for four.

They found three.

They were coming back for the last one.

And he was the only one left.

Lincoln removed the Walther P38 from his belt and waited.

A man can’t outrun a bullet or his time when it ends.

The voice in his mind was harsh.

And brittle.

A dark blue Buick wheeled to a stop beside the curb.

The girl got out. Same hairstyle. Same heart-shaped face. Same beauty spot below her left eye, but the eyes were harder than he remembered. They were like tiny kernels of hazel ice.

“It’s time to go,” she said.

“Where?” he asked.

“He’s waiting,” she said.

“Why does he want me?” he asked.

“He has no other choice.” She shrugged. “You’re the only one alive,” she said.

Lincoln eased into the front seat and watched the haze grow dark as the Buick roared into the desert. He did not know where he was going, but he was going full dead ahead and in style.

Love begins.

Then there are problems and troubles along the journey:  cheating, lying, betrayal, anger, revenge, love gone awry, the thirst for power, and the pain of jealousy. Hate raises its ugly head.

Hearts break.

Hope is dashed.

And love dies.

We have dreams.

Then come rejection, disappointment, failure, criticism, and humiliation.

Plans fall apart.

We face defeat.

We are suffocated with defeat.

And dreams die.

We possess ambition.

Then we get knocked down, passed over, shoved aside, fired, and abandoned.

We are dejected.

We lose faith.

And ambition dies.

A journey begins.

Then the path is filled with twists, turns, potholes, sorrow, and regret.

We become lost.

All the bridges are washed out.

The road ends.

And the journey dies.

There is an old saying that has haunted me for a long time:

Life asked death,

Why do people love me

And hate you?

Death responded,

Because you are a beautiful lie

And I am a painful truth.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Cormac McCarthy was right.

One theme.

Many stories.

But every one of them, in one form or another, is about life.

And death.

They represent what takes place between our first breath and our last.

Please click HERE to find Conspiracy of Lies on Amazon.


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