The Writer’s Journey – Finding Your Personal Theme


Last week I discussed The Writer’s Journey – 3 Ways To Craft Your Future. This week I want to talk about finding your personal theme.

When we write, we want the reader to see the world as we see it. We want to share our truth. But before we even put the first word on the page, we sometimes have to ask ourselves: ‘What do I want to say?’

The magnifying glass
  1. What excites or fascinates you about the world you live in?
  2. What frustrates you, puzzles you, or makes you mad?
  3. What do you kind of books or poetry do you keep rereading?
  4. What are your values? How is your moral compass set?
  5. Do you often see or believe things other people don’t agree with?
  6. What do you seek out as the truth? Or what are the uncomfortable questions you can’t find easy answers to?

The above are all clues to the personal theme you want to explore.

Recurring theme

For example, Patricia Highsmith, author of Talented Mr Ripley, examined the effect of guilt on her characters. John Rechy, author of City of Night, often writes about what it’s like to be an outsider in society. In many of Danielle Steel books, she writes about the search for a lasting and loving relationship.

Making a story uniquely yours

A personal theme forms the nucleus of your story; it’s the place to start as a writer. Once you know what you’re drawn to, you will find material – plot, character, dialogue – that supports your theme. You will create an entertaining, creative story to fold around theme so that becomes the secret, but vital, heart of your writing. Readers will respond and react to the truth.

Genre and theme

Sometimes, as a new writer, we don’t know how to express our themes. We think we have to write a memoir or autobiography. Genre is a great lens for theme. Let’s say you want to write about what it’s like to be a ‘woman in a man’s world’:

  1. You could write a detective novel about a rookie female cop who comes into conflict with her older, male partner as they hunt down the killer of innocent young girls.
  2. You could write a romance novel about a heroine who takes over her father’s construction company and has to get the men on the building site – especially the sexy architect – to see her as a leader.
  3. You could write a comedy about a female graduate who disguises herself as a man in order to get an internship at a prestigious private bank.
Try this: Take one of the dialogue prompts below and have a character defend, refute or explain this statement. It will give you an idea of what you feel strongly about as a writer.
  1. ‘Nobody likes to be told what to do.’
  2. ‘Even a blind man knows when he’s walking in the sun.’
  3. ‘The heart wants what the heart wants.’
  4. ‘It’s easier to stand up against your enemies than your friends.’
  5. ‘The bird at the top of the tree sings the clearest.’

Look out for The Writer’s Journey – How To Build A Breakout Brand As A Writer next week