Blog, For Writers, Tools

Theme: Beyond ‘Once Upon a Time’

First off, what is theme? Theme is how your story relates to reality and issues of life. In fairy tales theme was directly related to the lesson the story teaches children. For example: Hansel and Gretel- don’t eat too much candy! Theme is one of the five elements of story that I summarized here: How to Start Writing.

Theme defined: a main idea or underlying meaning in a story. This idea or meaning can be stated directly or indirectly.

I’ve found that theme has become the underrated element of story writing. Today people are more interested in plot and conflict. They want read about how people fall in love or how the main character kicks some ass. there is less focus on theme, even though it is essential. In most romances you’ll see the theme of: love conquers all.

I personally believe that as writers we have a responsibility to use theme to make our readers think. Theme is a great vessel to carry social issues we want our readers to be aware off. I’ve read a fantasy book that draws attention to racism and still keeps me entertained by the story.

Some of the best stories are the ones the tackle hard issues we see around us everyday. Issues like: racism, bullying, politics, gender equality, body image, and so on. We all have strong feelings about something and theme can help us communicate this to readers. Theme is the thesis sentence of your story. It is the point you are trying to make.

However, don’t forget thar you can have more than one theme! Having multiple themes brings dynamic interest to your story, but beware of over doing it. You should make one theme stronger than the rest, just like how you should have a main plot and subplots. In my opinion each subplot should have a theme. Sometimes this just happens naturally, other times you need to exercise your creative muscles to make it work.
(Did I mention in my blog post about PLOT that subplots are amazing?)

Now, how does one pick a theme? It depends on your writing process.

If you like building plot, focus on what your plot is about and find something that resembles theme. Example: if you’re writing about the end of the world, then your theme will probably be about protecting nature and the earth.

If you focus on characters, then take a look at the struggles your main character has gone through. What issues does your character fight for? If your character fight for gender equality, then most likely that will be your theme.

If your story highlights setting, then you might want to think about the history of the setting. For example: if your story takes place in Scotland you might want your theme to relate to the values you find in Scotland.

If you like writing conflict, then theme will be your best friend. Conflict can arise when there is opposition to your theme. For example: your theme is ‘love conquers all’ and so your conflict will struggle against this theme.

For some people it is the theme they start with, and usually it is easy for these people to create their theme.

Alas, this is the end of my Five Elements of Story blog series. If you have any thoughts on this post, or suggestions for future post comment below.

Thanks for reading,

-Lalia LaRose


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