Writers approach themes and stories differently. Mentioning the word ‘theme’ in a room full of writers will most likely ignite a fierce debate. Most genre writers have a hard time embracing all that a good theme can offer. For those who write to entertain, discussing themes usually brings to mind fictitious images that leave their readers amused with their story.
Today, you’ll not only do away with this misconception but also learn how to develop a theme that can be easily integrated into a novel. Learning how to develop a story so that you take your readers on a thrilling journey is crucial to becoming a remarkable novelist. Here are seven steps that will help you develop the theme of your story. But first, let’s understand what a theme is.
The theme is one of the writer’s most powerful tools. It’s a statement that you make about the topics that you discuss in your book. A book’s theme is usually derived from the emotional development of characters or from the consequences these characters face as a result of their actions.
By using your theme in the right way, you end up creating an emotional connection between your readers and characters. This hooks your readers into the character’s way of life and leaves them with a hangover after reaching the conclusion.
By doing it well, you’ll avoid using your theme to enforce a message on your readers. You’ll allow your readers to conclude for themselves by reading and learning lessons or experiencing the consequences with your characters.
What is commonly referred to as a theme is made up of two elements namely the themes and the author’s thematic statement about those themes.
According to top essay writing service, theme is defined as a central topic that authors discuss in their literary work. A theme on its own cannot make a statement. It’s an idea that is highlighted from the beginning to the end of a book. While most novels are not limited to one theme, it is best to choose a couple to highlight.
By making a point of choosing these themes during the pre-writing stage, you’ll easily identify and amplify the concepts in the drafts that will follow. Common examples of themes include empowerment, fulfillment, hope, order, injustice, and greed to name a few.
After identifying all the prominent ideas that you’ll discuss in your novel, you need to think about the other side of the coin: the thematic statement.
A thematic statement is defined as the message of your novel. It’s the stance that you take on the predominant themes in your book. While a novel can have several thematic statements, there’s always one statement that stands out. For instance, in the novel, The Dark Between, the dominant thematic statement is, “You can never stand on your own in someone else’s shadow.”
To develop your theme into a story, here are seven practical steps that you need to take:
1. Study great examples of plot development
As custom essay reports, reading is one of the best ways to develop and improve your writing skills. Great writers will inspire you with examples that will help you get the elements of your craft right. While reading other peoples’ works, it’s important to take note of the effective elements that they use in their books. Note how the characters change over time and the sequence of events.
You should avoid comparing yourself to these authors or trying to copy exactly what they are doing. Remember, you are reading their stories to improve your writing skills. By reading these examples and focusing on yourself, you’ll end up developing a great story.
2. Shape your story with plotting processes
The source of great plots are good ideas and curiosity. Your story needs to begin with a hypothetical situation. A good story should be brought to life through a clear and focused plotting process that will shape the story.
Also, developing a clear summary is one of the best ways to brainstorming ideas that will help your characters and plot to grow.
3. Create a timeline of your plot’s events
According to Dissertation Today, understanding the ‘when’ of your story is critical when you are developing a story. By creating a timeline of the plot of events, you’ll easily navigate between the scenes and chapters. And this will help you have a clear picture in mind. Even if you aren’t intending to plot the whole novel in advance, it’s crucial to create a timeline.
4. Develop your characters in exciting ways
It’s important to think about the process of developing your characters. At the initial writing stage, you need to identify the main goals of your primary characters and their personalities. Regardless of your story idea, your characters should develop in exciting ways. Show how their ambitions or fears affect their decisions. And show the consequences of these decisions
5. Change the 5’Ws
All stories are made up of the 5 W’s namely: what, why, when, where, and who. ‘Who’ are the dominant characters in your story. ‘What’ is the situation that your characters find themselves in. ‘Where’ is the location or the setting. And ‘when’ is the time.
According to best paper writing services, a great story not only contains satisfying answers to these five questions but also highlights the developments in all these areas. By making all these elements of your plot change in a convincing way, you’ll take your readers on an interesting journey.
6. Outline the scenes
Creating a storyboard is one of the best ways of developing a story. You can use index cards or pieces of paper such as post-its. Summarize all the key events of a scene in two lines or less.
Include the characters involved and the purpose of the scene. Reorder the scenes according to your story until you have a sequence that makes sense. Sometimes you’ll have to reverse or shift an early scene towards the end to connect with your readers.
7. Incorporate action-driven elements
According to assignment help, change is the only thing that makes a story move forward. Your characters have to act so that your readers can enjoy the ride. Even if you are writing a less dramatic story such as romance, this point applies. Change is one of the best ways to develop your characters.
After working on all aspects of your story, it’s important to share your work with other writers to get feedback. Sharing your work with other writers will help you seal the holes in your plot. In most cases, these holes cannot be seen with your eyes. Don’t fear criticism. It’s exactly what you need to become a great writer.
Scott Matthews is a talented editor and writer at dissertation help online, best resume writing service, buy custom essay and best essay writing services uk. He loves mentoring students and authors during his leisure time. He is interested in technology, literature and business.
Themes are an integral part of any good story. Yet many genre fiction writers fail to consider their story’s themes, believing they have no place beyond literary novels — or worse yet, that authors who actively explore themes in their stories do so to preach to readers.
These harmful misconceptions hinder writers’ efforts to produce effective and engaging stories.
Themes are present in all forms of fiction. More importantly, when handled with care, themes lend purpose and meaning to the stories we tell. To fail to develop our stories’ themes with intention is to risk undermining their ability to engage and compel readers.
What are themes, exactly?
A theme is a central topic that a story explores. Note that I said topic rather than message. What many consider to be a story’s “message” is more accurately known as a thematic statement, an opinion or moral concerning one of the story’s themes that readers can derive from subtext.
For example, if a character overcomes great hardship to reunite with their lost love, then the story’s thematic statement could be described as “love conquers all,” with love and hardship serving as two of the story’s main themes. Other common themes include hatred, hope, greed, good versus evil, the coming-of-age experience, and the circle of life.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Themes: Good vs. Evil, Courage
Thematic Statement: With courage, even the smallest among us can play a powerful role in defeating darkness.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Themes: Love, Class
Thematic Statement: Class divisions breed prejudices that can blind us to happy possibilities.
On occasion, I’ve seen themes called “topics” and thematic statements called “themes”. What you choose to call these two related story elements isn’t important. What matters is that you develop these elements with care and intention because they may just make or break your story’s success.
Do themes really play a role in genre fiction?
Consider Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first movie in the Indiana Jones franchise.
If you’re only familiar with themes as concerns their relationship with literary novels, then you might not think to find any in this action-adventure classic. But if we define themes as the central topics a story explores, then Raiders of the Lost Ark discusses themes such as good vs. evil and the ethics of archaeological work.
Sounds pretty heavy for an action-adventure movie, right?
But the film follows Indiana Jones as he strives to recover the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis, who believe the Ark will make their armies invincible. One of the film’s thematic statements could therefore be, “Ancient relics should be respected rather than used for political gain.”
Perhaps this message seems a bit silly in light of the film’s entertaining nature, but consider Raiders of the Lost Ark without this thematic statement. Would viewers have been near so enthralled by the story of a man who searches for a relic for purely selfish purposes? Unlikely.
Viewers root for Indie’s success because they recognize that his efforts could make a vital difference in the war against fascism. This motivation is what lends Raiders of the Lost Ark its meaning — and thus, its edge-of-your-seat entertainment.
To put it simply: Without themes and thematic statements, our stories are meaningless. Thankfully, developing these essential story elements doesn’t have to be a difficult process…
How to Define Your Story’s Themes
Your story’s genre and age market will likely define at least one of its major themes (e.g. romance novelists write about love, Young Adult novelists write about the coming-of-age experience). But other themes are more story-specific…
If your romance features an interracial couple, then your story might explore the topic of racism. Or, if the protagonist of your YA novel is a Harvard hopeful, then your story might discuss the pressures of academia. In this way, your story’s themes can develop naturally.
However, you can also choose to write a novel with a specific set of themes in mind. For example, I knew I wanted to explore the intersection between ambition, power, and the corrupting nature of greed when I began to develop my current work-in-progress, Lady Legacy.
Your story may discuss a large number of topics. However, I recommend identifying the two to five most important themes your story will explore. Defining these topics will help you hone one of the most important facets of your story: its thematic statements.
How to Develop Your Story’s Thematic Statements
Some thematic statements concern plot or world-building. For example, in The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins explores the concept of spectacle (theme) and how authoritarian governments often use spectacle to distract from the suffering and oppression they inflict (thematic statement).
Without a deeper meaning than just its plot, your story remains a shell of what it could be.
A story with a theme answers, what does this mean?
That’s the kind of a story that resonates with readers and stays with them.
Getting Started: What Is Theme?
Plot is what happens Theme is why it happens. Why you’re telling this story. It’s the message you want readers to take away.
In fact, I urge you to determine why you want to tell a story before you even begin. Know why you’re writing what you’re writing. Don’t just write to write. That’s not a good enough reason to be a writer. Write because you have something to say.
What will this story teach my reader about life?
If you write to merely entertain, don’t expect your stuff to be memorable.
Clear Theme Examples
- Aesop’s Fable The Tortoise and the Hare (The danger of overconfidence)
- George Orwell’s 1984 (The beauty of individual freedom and the danger of absolute power)
- Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien (Love and mercy overcome evil)
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Endurance and perseverance know no age)
- The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (The timeless beauty of sacrificial love)
- The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (The dearest things to us are often found at home)
Allowing Theme to Speak for Itself
Resist the urge to explicitly state your theme in the story. That may have worked in a quaint way with Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz, but readers today don’t need the theme writ large. Tell your story and it should explore your theme and make its own point.
Readers are smart.
Subtly weave your theme into a story and trust readers to get it. Don’t rob them of the experience.
In my own novel Though None Go With Me, I wanted to explore the question of whether there was any payoff this side of heaven for a life of complete surrender to God. At a young age my heroine decides to make the rest of her life an experiment of obedience to God.
Her reward? She becomes a modern-day Job with everything she cherishes ripped from her. In the end we experience with her a Mr. Holland’s Opus type ending, answering the theme’s question, but letting the reader come to his own conclusion.
Know your theme and explore it through your story. Your writing will never be the same.
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
Theme is an often overlooked tool in a writer’s toolbox. Here’s another look at finding the greater meaning in your story.
Several years ago I attended a workshop on theme at RWA. It was a fascinating session, because the presenters were romance author Suzanne Brockmann and English professor and literary critic, Sarah Frantz, who studies romance in general, and Brockmann in particular. To see what the reader took away from the book versus what the author intended was quite interesting. They were similar, but not always exact. And that’s okay, because everyone takes away something different from a book.
Some of the things they said made me look at theme in a new light, and made me think about ways to discuss theme that can be directly applied to a writer’s work. Looking back on this, I can see how theme has become a much bigger part of my writing process, because a great book is about something, and we all want our books to be more than plots and characters.And using a theme is a great way to accomplish that.
Here are three ways a theme can help writers tell a richer story:
1. Theme is the Unifying Element of a Novel
We often think of theme as this big literary thing lurking in the back of our work–the stuff of English class and literary novels, not something that applies to commercial fiction. But it’s really just the underlying “story” you’re writing that connects all the pieces together. Like romance is about love, horror is about fear, mysteries are about puzzles on the grand concept scale.
If you’re unsure what your theme is, think about what your novel is about on that grand scale. Not the details of the plot, not the character with the problem, but the general core concept of an idea you’re exploring with that plot and character and problem. If it’s still too vague to be any help, take a step closer and determine what about that concept (love, fear, etc) are you exploring. Keep stepping closer until you find something that feels right. That’s probably your theme.
2. You Can Have More Than One Theme
This really surprised me, because at that time, I believed one book = one theme. But Brockmann uses different themes for the book, then individual characters, and even sets of characters. All those themes connect to form a larger idea that still fits within her core concept and works together to tell a deeper tale.
Look at your characters. Is there repetition of ideas there in the types of problems they need to solve? Again, not the details, but the concepts. For example, are they all trying to find love, or overcome personal fears? Look at your setting. Does it provide a metaphoric backdrop–intentional or not? If you keep seeing the same ideas turn up over and over, there’s a good chance you have themes working there.
3. Theme Can Be Found in One Word
This one blew me away. It was something so simple and really made me realize that theme wasn’t a big complicated bang you over the head with it kinda thing. It didn’t need to be illustrated with heartfelt monologues or purple prose metaphors. It’s something that can be infused into your text on a micro level and show your concepts without screaming “Look! I’m a theme!”
Brockmann did it like this: (paraphrasing because I didn’t write the exact sentence down)
She’s okay. One word, one simple pronoun, and suddenly Brockmann’s theme of gender equality is blindingly clear. A typically male dominated profession has a woman in it. It’s subtle, it’s elegant, it goes out there and does its job and you barely even notice. But it backs up everything else Brockmann does in that book and builds upon that theme.
What can you do to add or develop theme?
Let it guide you. It’s another way of adding structure to your work so when you have to decide between your protagonist doing A or B, you can see which one illustrates your theme better. That will connect to previsions scenes, and lay the groundwork for future scenes. When you’re describing a scene, look for details that support the ideas of your novel. Let those ideas be reflected in the thoughts of your characters. The reader might not even consciously pick up on it, but by the end of the story, they’ll feel like the book was about something more than just the plot.
And for you pantsers out there, theme might be the guiding light you’ll love–structure without outlines. A guide that lets you be as spontaneous as you want.
Not every scene needs to be all about theme, but using it can add layers to your story and even help you figure out what scenes can be fleshed out and what can be cut. If it doesn’t support your theme at all, that might be a clue that it’s taking you on a tangent or just needs more work.
Like plot is the backbone of a story, theme is the muscle. Using both gives you a story that’s not only solid, but strong.
What’s your current novel’s theme?
For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.
Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.
- Create compelling characters readers will love
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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter , Blue Fire , and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter , was chosen for the 2014 list of “Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read” from the Georgia Center for the Book.
She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.
When she’s not writing novels, she’s teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She’s the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
This post is all about theme. We will explore the definition of a theme, give you examples of themes, and we will go through three steps that will help you find your theme in your story.
When we teach writers how to write a novel or a memoir, we emphasise how crucial theme is in the process. The best novels and the most life-changing memoirs you will ever read are the ones that help you discover a truth about the human condition.
A theme in a book should never be stated, but should be developed through character changes and plot escalation. A theme can be strengthened by the use of motifs.
In The Art Of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri says well-defined characters drive plots. He emphasises the consistency of change in life. Characters have to adapt, evolve, and ‘synthesise’ new philosophies. They do this after facing many overwhelming obstacles.
What is a theme?
- Theme is the central idea of the story.
- It is better if it is a full statement, with a subject and a verb.
- It sums up what the story shows us about the human condition. It is not a moral. It is simply a statement.
- Crime pays.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Who dares wins.
- Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
- Home is where the heart is.
- The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.
- You never really know anybody.
- People are predictable.
- People with nothing to lose are dangerous.
- Love conquers all.
- Blood is thicker than water.
- You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.
- What does not kill you makes you stranger.
It’s About The Meaning
If you understand your plot, the parts your characters, especially the protagonist and the antagonist, play in the story, and the effects this plot will have on your characters’ lives, you will find the meaning of your story.
Once you understand the meaning, you will find the theme.
3 Steps To Help You Find Your Story’s Theme
The Lajos Egri Theme Cheat Sheet:
- Your wife committing adultery leads to you finding out you never really know anyone.
- Embezzling money from your company and getting caught leads to you understanding honesty is the best policy.
- A woman who meddles in other people’s marriages leads to her realising that fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
How A Theme Helps
Once you have a theme for your book, use it to check if every scene fits in your novel.
Ask yourself: Does this scene build your story’s theme?
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We’ve been examining the fourth crucial support of your novel—theme with a heart. I noted in these last two posts that theme is more important than plot in terms of supporting the whole of your story. I called plot a vehicle for your theme. It’s also the vehicle to showcase your concept, protagonist’s goal, and central conflict. In other words, try to think of plot as functioning different from the other elements in your story. We will take a look at plot next as one of the pillars in novel construction, but it’s the structuring of the plot itself that we’ll focus on. It speaks to the framework of your “building” rather than the actual materials, if that makes sense.
Theme: the Unsung “Hero” of Novels
So, let’s return to theme for another look. When I started contemplating what to write about this pillar, I realized I didn’t have a whole lot to say. Theme isn’t often discussed as a crucial element in a novel, but to me it is, and is mostly overlooked or taken for granted. Do writers just assume theme will just show up and needs no introduction? I’m not sure.
When I searched online for articles about theme in novels, I could hardly find a thing. And that disturbed me. I’m all about theme, and even when I get an idea for a new novel and a scenario or concept comes to mind, I instinctively make for the theme. In fact, the theme is my litmus test for whether a novel idea has potential. If it’s just a cool idea but I can’t connect it to a meaningful theme, out it goes. I usually don’t have that problem, though, because themes are what are the germs of stories for me, so they usually spark the idea.
How to Come Up with Themes
So what are some ways you can come up with themes for your story? Or come up with a story with a great theme? One way, as I mentioned in a previous post, is to take a look at your characters and see what they are passionate about. But what if they aren’t passionate about anything? If that’s the case, you haven’t worked hard enough with your idea to create a protagonist with a goal. And for that character to want to strive for a goal, she has to be passionate about something. Find her passion and you have the germ for the themes.
Have you worked out the central conflict in your story—something that opposes your character? That conflict will present your themes, as those opposing your protagonist have an agenda and core need (passion . . .) and most likely will take some opposing side or view on an issue or behavior or belief than your protagonist.
Go back to the questions I posed in the first post on theme. Ask yourself, “What is my novel about?” Then ask yourself, “What is my novel really about.” Roll up your sleeves and do some digging. There is a lot under the surface of your concept that you can mine for theme.
Another way that helps me find theme is by asking questions. Why, why, why. This speaks to the heart of motivation. Mind mapping themes is a great exercise. Here’s a post that shares a bit on how I mined themes for my novel Conunudrum. With any developing concept you’re considering fleshing out into a full novel, ask lots of questions to arrive at themes that excite you.
Next week I’m going to give you a glimpse of how my wild mind works when it comes to brainstorming an idea. I’m hoping that might give you some ideas of your own for coming up with and developing the themes in your novel. But for now, any thoughts on theme? Share them in the comments!
Writing is an ambitious venture. There are so many grounds to cover, from deciding on the plot, developing characters, and coming up with a compelling book title to finding a publisher willing to print your work. However, starting always seems to be the hardest part of the process, especially in the phase when you still haven’t decided what your next story is going to be about.
When you’re new to storytelling, it often seems that finding the perfect theme is borderline impossible: There are so many options to choose from, and you’re not sure how to approach this challenge.
Luckily, there are a few very useful guidelines that can help you come up with great ideas and ultimately choose a theme that both you and your audience are going to love.
1. Prepare to do extensive research
Contrary to popular belief, writers don’t spend all of their time typing tirelessly for hours and days. In fact, before any word hits the paper, every author worth their salt usually starts off by conducting research on the topic they’ve chosen.
The fact that you are still to decide on the theme for your story doesn’t mean this step doesn’t apply to you. Start researching trending topics in the literary world and find out what award-winning authors write about.
The purpose of this step isn’t to settle for any idea you come up with right away, though. This step should only help you understand your options better, guiding you to the topics that interest readers more than some others.
2. Get inspired by everyday life
The second part of your research phase is to get out and be fully present in your life. Observe people in the streets, coffee shops, and museums. Really listen to your friends and family. Talk to strangers at your local grocery store. Art imitates life, and you can’t write about life if you’re not truly experiencing and exploring all its aspects and miniature wonders.
3. Steal from the best
They say that good artists copy, while great artists steal. Does this mean that you should rewrite Shakespeare into a modern-time adaptation and be done with it? Probably not (although this can be an interesting exercise). What this means is that, in essence, all stories have already been told, so you can let go of the ideal (and the pressure) of creating something “truly unique and different”. Feel free to be inspired by the works of the world’s finest novelists.
4. Explore the storytelling theory
Although some stories often look very distinctive when compared to others, storytelling experts have noticed that all of them follow certain principles. The efforts to systematize these have somewhat succeeded, but now the literature is overflowing with different approaches and divisions which aim to narrow down plot types to 3, 6, 7, or even more groups.
Whichever division you come across in your research will surely help you devise your plot, but one of the most comprehensive story analyses you should definitely look up specifically is Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.
5. Contemplate the purpose of your story
What are the feelings you want your story to convey? Should there be a message for the reader, clear as a day or hidden in plain sight? Will your protagonists fight for their freedom or require help to escape their pessimistic outlook on life? Ask yourself: “What do I want the purpose of my story to be?” and you will take a giant leap forward.
6. Decide on a preferred genre
Here’s one marvelous thing about stories: You can convey any message in any form you like. Romance, memoir, dystopian tale, satire, or any other genre can be fitting to tell the story you want to tell. More often than not, these genres intertwine, creating new forms you can explore to your heart’s content.
7. Create a brief summary
Once you’ve powered through all of these steps, you might feel more confused than you were at the beginning of this process. Don’t let that worry you: With so much information on your mind, it’s perfectly normal to feel this way. Take some time to relax before you return to your desk. Once you’re back, create a point-by-point summary of all the vital aspects you want your story to consider.
Even though writing is a challenging endeavor, it can also be extremely rewarding. Take your time, do your research, and write down all of the ideas you come up with along the way. That perfect theme is out there, waiting to be discovered and cultivated.
Contemplating ideas and adapting them to be just right always takes time, but is sure to pay off in the long run. Only when you are truly passionate about your story will the readers be able to recognize and share this wonderful feeling.
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We have talked about the definition of theme and different ways an author may express the theme in literary work. Now, it is time for you, the student writer, to learn how to come up with a theme and incorporate it in your writing. Writing can benefit with an underlying message for the reader to learn. The main theme should be slowly introduced and developed during the story; each piece of writing should be somehow related to the theme.
First of all, you have to sit down and choose a simple theme. A simple theme is a general idea that have interested people throughout time. There are many, and I mean various themes to choose from. Here is a list of some examples:
-Life and Death: In The Lion King , Mufasa teaches Simba the meaning of “The Circle of Life”. Not too long afterwards, Mufasa dies from falling from a cliff and getting trampled. Scar failed to save Mufasa so he could be king. At the end, Simba defeats Scar and avenges his father’s death.
-Love: In Twilight , Edward shows his love for Bella throughout the books. Jacob is also in love with Bella and is willing to compete against Edward for her heart. The author’s theme is the troubles of young love and sacrificing your life to someone who is not of nature (a vampire).
-Sacrifice: A story about a mother who works three jobs while support four children. The author may write about the struggles when it comes to making giant sacrifices for survival.
-Friendship: Picture a story about friendship between two boys get torn apart when they fight over a girl. The author may talk about the ups and downs of a friendship, but at the end, differences should be set aside and friendship that has potential should be repaired.
Take the theme you would like to talk about, and ask yourself, “Is this the theme I want? What else do I want to say?” You will have to meditate over this, and yes, it will take time. Read a short story for inspiration and help jumpstart your “creative juices”. Remember there are several ways to express a theme in a story:
- The character’s thoughts, feelings, and conversations.
- The action of a character.
- Repeating ideas or symbols.
- Identifying values and ideas.
Implied themes in a story can be described as the moral of a story. Some examples include:
-Treat others the way you want to be treated.
-Money cannot buy happiness.
-It’s not the hand that you are dealt with, it’s how you play them cards.
In works of fiction, a theme is the central idea or ideas explored in the story. A literary theme might be the subject matter or present itself as a message within the larger story.
Learn more about what themes are in literature and get some well-known examples.
What Is a Theme in Literature?
A theme can be expressed concretely in a very general way or as a broad subject, such as courtship, love, and marriage in Jane Austen's works. Throughout her novels, love triumphs (and those in love), even though they had to endure hardships and challenges along the way.
Works of literature can have more than one theme. "Hamlet," for instance, deals with the themes of death, revenge, and action, to name a few. "King Lear" shines a light on justice, reconciliation, madness, and betrayal as themes.
A theme also can be expressed in a more abstract way as an idea or moral—the message of the story. For example, the theme of a parable or fable is the moral it teaches:
- The theme, or moral, of Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare" is that slow and steady wins the race or consistency and perseverance is of more value than flash and speed.
- George Orwell's dystopian novel "Animal Farm" has several themes, including how absolute power can corrupt and that knowledge is power.
- The themes of the novel "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley are that it is wrong for human beings to attempt to usurp the powers that should be God's alone and that pride goes before a fall.
Identifying themes in literature can enhance your reading experience by allowing you to better understand characters, conflicts, and story.
How Themes in Literature Work
Writers take different approaches to themes in their work. While you might start with an issue or theme in mind, you might find that other themes also develop, emerge, or expand as you write.
It may not be until the editing stage that you even begin to recognize your themes. Once you see them, though, you can more easily decide what to cut from your story or novel and what to highlight.
You can edit your work with your theme in mind. For example, are there sections of the work that seem to detract from the theme? Are there sections that you can strengthen to clarify the point?
Consider this scenario: You are writing a story through which you hope to communicate themes of love and loss. You might even have formulated a message you wish to get across through your characters—something like "true love is eternal and can even survive death."
Now that you have your theme, you know several things about your story:
- It involves at least two characters who are capable of experiencing and communicating deep love for each other.
- It involves loss.
- It somehow portrays love as being eternal, whether symbolically or literally, as might be possible in fantasy.
Alternatively, you might write a story about two characters in love and not really identify eternal love as a central theme until after you've analyzed the first draft. If you do a good job crafting characters and plot, you often will discover themes through the process of analysis.
Examples of Themes in Literature
The possible themes that literature can focus on are numerous. Here are some examples of some common ones:
- Coming of age
"This vs. that" is also a way that many themes show up in literature. For example:
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