Made in America

Why Your Book Needs a Theme

A well-told story has many elements, one of which is the theme. The theme is the axis around which your entire story revolves.

In order to develop a theme, you must understand what it entails. To put it simply, theme gives meaning. It provides a connection between the story and reality that helps the readers understand the context of the story. In essence, it tells the reader what the story is about.

Whether it’s an idea, a concept or even a lesson, the theme is commonly associated with a character’s internal journey that plays out externally.

So just how do you develop a theme? Here are some quick tips.

Identify the unifier

Look at the big picture of your story. For a moment in time, forget about the smaller details like the characters’ quirks, the details of the plot and the other supporting details. When identifying your theme, you have to think more broadly about what you’re trying to develop. What’s the underlying story that you’re trying to tell? It’s that answer that can help you identify your theme. Just like horror is about fear and romance is about love, you have to look at the grand idea of your story. What about that concept are you trying to bring to light? The answer to that question will likely be your theme.

Make it simple

Your theme should be subtly woven into your story and come to the surface over time. The theme doesn’t have to be illustrated with a drawn-out monologue or other apparent measures. Rather, it can be infused in the text in a more delicate way. Your theme should continually be backed up throughout the story and in ways that make the reader say “ah ha!” or “I get it.” You want to create moments that resonate with your reader and not leave them with a laundry list of questions.

Guiding light

The theme of your story acts as the guiding light to the events and conversations that take place. Though theme provides structure, it also encourages spontaneity. Every exchange between characters doesn’t have to somehow involve the theme. However, using theme can add the layers of complexity that readers crave in a story. It’s important to note that if you feel like something that you’ve written doesn’t support your theme, you might be off topic.

Think of your theme as the muscle to the backbone of your story – the plot. Using both in tandem will give your story strength.

Copyright Dorrance Publishing, 2016

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