Monday, November 4, 2013

Writing Tips - Theme

The ultimate question to every story is "Why?"

What's the point?

Why are you telling this story?


You have an idea for your story. You want to write. But, you must first ask yourself why do you want to write this particular story? How do you control all of the ideas you have floating in your head? How do you capture all the right ideas and create something awesome?

What are your motives? Honesty is important here. Your answer will help you decide how to develop the pattern of thought in your work, which is theme.

Does the word theme make you nervous? Does it recall bad memories in English class about having to write a five hundred word theme on how you spent your summer vacation?

Just to clear things up, when we mention theme in this article, it has nothing to do with high school themes.


Theme: the central concern around which a story is structured. It is your inertial guidance system. It directs your decisions about which path to take, which choice is right for the story and which choice isn't.

There are several patterns of theme that you can apply to your story.

1. Plot as Theme

Everyone likes a good action film, right? Okay, well most of us do. That's how Plot becomes a theme. It's all about the escape into a good chase. The reader can sink into the story and become one with the protagonist as he/she follows the clues. In these kinds of books, everything, including character, are secondary to all of the fun action and plot. Books similar in style: think anything James Bond-ish.

2. Effect as Theme

The main focus of the pattern changes from events to emotional effect. There are various kinds of emotional effect: terror, suspense, love and romance, or comedy.

If you choose effect as your story's theme, concentrate on it and study the masters. Stephen King, John Carpenter, Robert Ludlum, Robin Cook, Alfred Hitchcock, any Harlequin romance writer, or Woody Allen.

It's important to understand the expectations of your reader before you write your story.

3. Style as Theme

Here we are looking at the author's style. It's the expression of style; an elevated artistic technique. In actuality, this is a very limited market.

4. Character as Theme

To define theme as character, your story must concentrate on a person (or persons) so that they are the center of plot and action. Similar books in this area: David Copperfield, Anna Karenia, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

5. Idea as Theme

No other theme makes us think as much as the "idea" theme. These stories affect us in such a way that we take a bit of it with us when we are finished. Very famous books like Robinson Crusoe and Don Quixote are great examples of a theme plot based on ideas.

Ideas can come from a number of different forms. Here are the major categories into which most Ideas as Themes fall:

  • The moral statement: a work that attempts to persuade the reader to accept a certain moral principle
  • Human dignity: a character's fight for dignity and the right to be who he/she was in the face of a system that set to out to destroy him/her.
  • Social comment: writers may sometimes be tempted to preach when it comes to writing about the ills of society. Remember: show, don't tell. If you feel the urge to make a social comment in fiction do so from the character's point of view. Argue from your character's convictions, not your own. 
  • Human nature: the main character or characters of the story represent universal human types. These characters and their crises, reach beyond the page because they represent our view of civilization, of humankind in general.
  • Human relations: the author is concerned with understanding who we are as people and examining the difficulties people have when it comes to getting along with one another, especially complex, intimate relationships such as love, marriage, and family.
  • Innocence to experience: "coming of age" stories or "loss of innocence" stories.

If you decide on a theme for your story, you'll have kind of a roadmap to follow. Let it guide you. Write with your heart and the theme will follow.

Resource: The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing

Image credit: midnight13 / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. I will definitely be referencing your site going forward. I'm always looking for ways to refine my writing and better it. What an awesome resource your is!

    Tenns @ New Mama Diaries

  2. Tenns, I appreciate the references. I hope I'll be able to help you.


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