What is Theme?

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What is Theme?
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These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.


What is theme?

This is the first in our three-week series about what theme is and how to find this abstract bugger and even develop it in your own stories. And to start things off, we have to define theme. Turns out there are a lot of different takes on this bad boy, but for today we’re going with LitCharts.

According to LitCharts,

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only apply to the specific characters and events of a book or play, but also express broader truths about human experience that readers can apply to their own lives. For instance, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (about a family of tenant farmers who are displaced from their land in Oklahoma) is a book whose themes might be said to include the inhumanity of capitalism, as well as the vitality and necessity of family and friendship.

And you can have more than one theme in your story, but we’re just going to be focusing in on one right now.

The theme is something you have to develop in your story and it has a significant impact on your main character.

Your book will have a plot – the things that happen in the story.

Your book will have character development – how your character evolves or doesn’t in a story.

Your book will have a theme – the more abstract concepts that your story involves.

Themes can be broken into concepts and statements.

A concept would be:

Love

Grief

A statement would be:

Human love is imperfect.

Living with grief is permanent.

And your work as the author is to embody those themes in your character as they navigate the plot and world of the story.

Sara Letourneau is a poet who also writes for diyMFA and coaches. She has a great piece about developing themes in stories and a worksheet on her website. 

She advocates when developing a theme for your character’s story, you can do so in their big choice in act one of the story.

A pause for a refresher. Act One is the beginning of your book where you establish the character, setting, story problem, character goal’s, etc. And it is also the place where the character’s world begins to change. This usually happens in the inciting incident.

Because of the inciting incident, the character that you’ve developed has to make a big-time decision. Will they keep on with the same old, same old or will they make a change that gets them involved with the story, a choice that makes it so their life isn’t going to be the same old, same old at all?

When they make this choice, the story usually enters ACT TWO, the place where everything is different for the main character, a point of no return.

So, what is this choice?

According to Leternous, it has the following elements:

  • “It typically occurs around the 25% mark, and signals the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II.
  • It shows the protagonist becoming fully engaged in the external conflict.
  • It further establishes the protagonist’s story goal.
  • It raises the stakes and underscores why the story goal matters to the protagonist.”

She writes (and I love this),

“It’s easy to confuse the inciting incident and the Act I choice, since they occur so close together. However, while the inciting incident invites the protagonist into the main conflict, the Act I choice is her RSVP. It shows the protagonist committing to her involvement and taking the first step out of her comfort zone. In other words, it’s her internal response to an external change in her status quo. And like with the inciting incident, it has the ability to reflect a story’s themes.”

So, what does theme have to do with this?

The inciting incident is where your character’s desires are triggered or maybe it’s her fears. It pushes her towards the choice that becomes her story goal.

She uses the Hobbit as an example:

“J. R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit:
Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit, meets the wizard Gandalf, who invites him on an upcoming quest. Bilbo initially refuses, claiming he’s not the adventurous type.”

But then things change a lot because there is that choice. And your main character has to pick the option that makes the story happen. They have to want it more than they want to stay in their safe, same-old, same-old life.

The theme comes into play because your character’s goals and desires, and fears are all involved in this choice. What thematic/abstract ideas relate to your character’s choice? That’s a big hunk of your theme.

For Bilbo that choice has to do with courage. He chooses adventure and exploring.

She has a GREAT worksheet if you want to check it out and the link is in our podcast notes at carriejonesbooks.blog.

https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/theme

Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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