Theme is the underlying meaning of your story. It’s what is revealed as the plot unfolds, the characters interact and the scenes form. It could be of friendship, courage, leaving no one behind, justice, forgiveness, love, death, life, abandonment, loneliness, acceptance, or a main theme and one or more smaller themes. Although there should be one main theme that unites all the smaller themes.
The picture here could suggest several different themes, lust, love, cheating, passion, living a full life, or may others I’m sure you can come up with. Whichever one is the main them of your story, will reveal itself as you tell it.
Some authors can preplan their story’s theme and write around it, but a better way, especially if you’re new at writing, or have trouble with theme, is to let it reveal itself as you write your story. Worry about telling your story first than find your theme.
You don’t want your theme(s) to scream in your readers’ face. You want it to lay just below the surface where it’s barely visible. Not everyone may even see it, but that’s alright. The theme is there to support and enhance your story. If it screams out at your reader the odds are you’ll turn them off and they’ll never finish your story.
The more you work with themes the better you will become at spotting them and working them into your writing. Always make your theme a whisper in your story and show both sides of the argument with equal vigor.
If your story has a theme supporting the death penalty then it should be presented through your characters, their dialogue, the plot, and the scenes. You should reframe coming out saying it is the only choice and that’s the way it is, unless it’s a character’s view.
Show both sides with the same passion, and let your reader reach their own conclusion, with some gentle nudges form you if there is a side you prefer your readers to reach. If you are going to support one side, you need to support the side against with the same passion as the other. Being careful to do it through the characters, their dialogue, and the plot of your story.
Why is it important to present both sides? People don’t like being told what to believe, but if you can show both sides though your characters, how it affects them, their family, their lives, the emotions will have a better chance getting your readers open to see the other side.
This is just the surface of themes, but I hope it helps you grasp what them is and how to introduce it in your story.
How do you find your theme? Here’s a great way to pinpoint your main theme and any minor themes that are in your story.
- Open a blank copy of notepad, or word, or grab a sheet of paper and a pen. I personally prefer using a spreadsheet.
- Read through your story and as you come across what you believe is a theme write it down
- Write down the chapter number, page number and a few words from the paragraph where you first spot the theme
- Repeat this for each chapter.
- When you finish reading your story number the first theme with the number 1
- Read through your list placing 1 next to each occurrence of the same theme type
- Move to the next unnumbered theme and place the number 2 next to it
- Repeat the same process by reading though your list and putting a 2 next to each of the same theme
- Repeat this until you have every theme on the list numbered.
- Next count the number of occurrences of each theme. See which ones appear most often.
- Rewrite your list with the theme with the highest count first and list them in descending order.
- Save this list either at the end of your story or in a separate file, but also print it out where you can see it.
- Don’t worry about your theme just yet. Wait until after the second, or third draft.
- Then repeat the same process as above and compare you lists.
- Has it changed? Does the main theme feel right?
- If so, is it present in a subtle way or are you rubbing your readers’ face in it?
- Now you are ready to do another rewrite to make sure your main theme and minor theme(s) are presented correctly.
- Try to group the themes together in groups of similar types.
- Sometimes a minor theme may only last a chapter or two, and not of much circumstance.
- By identifying your theme(s) you can edit your story to support it better and edit the scenes that are heavy handed.
Basic Three Act Structure has a beginning, middle, and end.
The middle of Act II (the 50% mark) is the point of no return. To show that better many writers divide Act into two parts, Act II A and Act II B, with the point of no return separating them.
The books below I have found extremely helpful in understand plot. I have listed them in the order of I found most helpful left to right. Hope they help you as much as they did me. If there are any resources you have found helpful please share with everyone.