This Theme Thing


Writers Write is a writing resource and this post is about the importance of theme. How do you find the theme of your story?

The theme of a good novel is woven into the story. It is so intrinsically linked to the story that it seems inseparable. It should seem impossible to tell the story without it, as if the whole story revolves around it. The author planned that, right?

It was the first thing they thought of when they started planning the novel, right? Right? Not quite.

You, as an author, might have an idea of where you are heading, but writing to force a theme will come across as, well forced. Once you have finished your first draft you’ll start reconsidering your theme. This may be the one you started out with or it may have changed.

How do you find the theme?

  1. Write one sentence that says what your book is about. The shorter the better.
  2. List every scene and identify the theme of each scene. You should see a pattern and most of the scenes should be the same as the sentence you wrote in point one.
  3. Brainstorm additional scenes that can echo or illustrate your main theme.
  4. Examine the scenes that don’t illustrate the theme. Can you tweak them or should they be deleted?
  5. Do the scenes you identified in the previous point introduce or address a secondary theme?
  6. Whatever you add or remove to your story will be governed by the theme. Keep referring back to the line you wrote in point one: This book is about… to check if the theme will work.

Remember to weave it in. Try not to teach a lesson. A good theme comes to you after the story, once we have had a chance to think about it. A bad theme is as subtle as Miley Cyrus coming of age.

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

 by Mia Botha

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