by Jessica Flory
Theme in your writing is as tricky to pin down as it is tough to implement. And yet, working in a great theme is absolutely essential to your novel.
If you want to publish, that is. And, if self-publishing, if you want your work to have an impact.
First of all, what is theme? The definition is pretty elusive, but it can most easily be classified as the overall message of your writing.
Why are you writing in the first place? Writing is hard, so why are you doing it? Ask yourself, why are you slogging through that novel? It’s long, at times tedious, but it’s still worth it. Why is that?
It’s because you have a message.
You have something to say.
Figure out what that is, and you’ve got your theme.
Why Do I Need a Theme?
It’s a good question, one that’s pertinent to every writer. Working with theme is crucial if you want to write and write well. No one wants to read a book that floats from topic to topic. Having a solid core to build your story around, that drives your message home at the oh-so -critical climax, will leave your readers breathless.
Now that’s just about every author’s dream.
Expertly crafted theme will:
- Give Your Writing Life: We all live, we all have problems that we need to resolve, and we all have core principles. Address these problems; bring to light those values!
- Add Depth to Your Writing: Theme, expertly executed, will fill your writing with compelling content and a deeper meaning. When you have a purpose to your writing, a message of human goodness that you’re trying to get out there, the emotional level of your writing is dramatically increased.
- Make Your Writing Stick: With theme incorporated, your writing will stick with your readers! Theme will tie your writing together cohesively and give it an undertone with the same message. Your readers may not remember the details of your words, but they’ll remember what statement you made and the emotional level that you brought them to.
How to Work it In
Theme is tough to define, and it’s even harder when you’re trying to artfully weave it into a story. Here are a few ideas for incorporating theme and giving your writing that extra boost:
- No Overloading: First of all, know that where theme is concerned, less is more. Loads more. Don’t try to incorporate ten different themes and make them all work. Pick one main theme that you want to address and maybe a few lesser themes that also peek through your story.
- Work With What’s Important to You: Chances are it will be important to your readers, too. Have you had an experience in your life that tested your courage? Write about that. Readers will immediately feel drawn to your story. It will demonstrate to them true principles of bravery, and it will feel real because you’ve experienced it and you can write about it well. A theme can be anything from courage, hope, peace, love, and sacrifice, to fulfilling your dreams, going for your goals, or hard work.
- Center Your Story: Place the central points of your story around your chosen theme. Include anecdotes that demonstrate the quality you’re trying to show. The theme should be the main message of your book, and it should come out at the climax.
A great way to make theme the center of your story is to work with your character’s flaws. Give them a flaw that they must overcome before the conclusion of the story can be reached.
For example, if you want courage to be your main theme, make your main character very afraid of facing their fears. Then have them go through a series of events that demonstrate the need for courage, make them determined to overcome their character flaw, and have them face their fears against all peril for a dramatic and satisfying finish.
Congratulations. You’ve just made courage your main theme.
Theme is as difficult to define as it is to incorporate, but it can be done. When it is, when theme is woven and intertwined in a story so skillfully that it sweeps the reader off their feet and carries them for the ride of their lives, it works. Theme can take your story to new heights, so what are you waiting for? Go for it!
Visit Jessica’s site, Write for Life, for more thoughtful blog posts on the writing experience.