Tips for Finding Themes

What readers particularly love is a story that actually means or says something. What carries this across is a good theme. The problem is, if you're like me, we writers often have a hard time deciding on what theme we want our stories to bring to the table.
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So, a quick briefing: 
What is a theme? A theme is defined as an "exhibition of particular subject matter." In writing, it ends up being the author's big idea. The crucial driving point. The thing that really makes the story matter. Without it, your story may lag or feel completely worthless. 
This driving point could be anything:  a political problem, a personal issue--anything mildly worth discussing. For instance: the theme of Shakespeare's Hamlet is justice and revenge. 

If there's so much to write on, then WHY is it SO HARD to decide on one? 

Here are the three basic groups I've run in to:

1. Societal Issues. The question of equality. Human worth. How much artificial intelligence is too much? A divided country (civil wars). Communism. These themes I usually find most put forth in Sci-Fi (Star Trek, Lois Lowry books). There's a lot to pick up on. EXCEPT. When including something like this as a theme, it is usually wise to write with subtlety. To imply rather than to state. These are all touchy subjects, so when including them as a theme (even in a fantasy realm), it can have a greater effect when put in indistinctly.

2. Personal Issues. These are brought up often from personal experience or something effecting the author. How people deal with death, depression or divorce. Imagination. Creativity. The effects of bullying. The question of identity. Although these are sometimes personal issues, they can be carried across into wider themes.

3. Moral Issues. Usually involve human honor and nobility. Sacrifice and betrayal. Usually the most easy to spot in fantasy (for me at least). Themes that ask questions such as 'can you ever believe a liar'? and state things like 'everyone is the master of his fate.' This sort of thing can be really fun to manipulate, especially in fantasy.

These are only the most prominent groups that I've run into. There are many other themes out there that transcend the lines and many that are their own category.

The big thing is getting the story to fit the theme. If your story and theme are not congruent, the whole thing just ends up clunky.

Make an outline of your novel and look it over. Does it seem like it fits well with the theme you chose? If not, you may need to chose a different theme.

Where else to look? 
 Sometimes I turn to my collection of Aesop's Fables for inspiration. The morals of his anecdotes can become the theme in a really beautiful an elegant way--if the writing's done right.

For example: in my fantasy novel, "In Defense of Thieves", two of  Aesop's morals are involved as themes. -What is worth most is often valued least and -The true value of money is not in its possession but in its use. 

The nice thing about turning to Aesop is that everyone has their own take on the morals: their own ideas of how to express that idea. This way, the theme can be reused over and over and over and not get old.

Some final tips:
-BE SUBTLE. Subtlety is often the most elegant. When things are stated blatantly it becomes flat.

-Structure the story and the theme together.

-Ask questions. The theme can be a question that you don't know the answer to. The novel can become a means for exploring.

-When reading, give a little thought to what you think the theme was. Try to think what the author was trying to tell you?

-Consider: what do YOU have to say? What are you trying to bring across?



Let's Chat!
1. Do you struggle with finding themes for your stories?  

2. Do you believe themes are important? 
3. Have you ever got a significant impression from reading a well-written theme? And what books do you believe have themes that are included well? 

Comments

  1. Finding a good theme is honestly the biggest struggle for me.
    Of course they're important! We write to change the world and how people perceive it. Without a theme we can't do that.
    I think that The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery has a theme that is woven nicely into the story. It's not a strong or deep theme but it still impacts you and changes your view on the world (or at least for me).

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    1. Yes, I agree! I only just read that two months ago, and I really enjoyed it! What do you suppose is your favorite theme to work with? Do you have one?

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  2. 1. Do you struggle with finding themes for your stories?
    The biggest struggle for me in writing is finding a well connected theme.
    2. Do you believe themes are important?
    They are very important because they give more meaning to the story.
    3. Have you ever got a significant impression from reading a well-written theme? And what books do you believe have themes that are included well?
    In Fahrenheit 451 there are excellent themes about society and where it might be headed in the future. Excellently the misuse of technology. It is a great read and it is scary how accurate this science fiction book, published in 1953, predicts what is going on in society today.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I struggle with themes as well. But I absolutely love reading well-written ones. :) Fahrenheit 451? Sounds pretty amazing. My interest is peaked. Who is the author? I'd love to check it out!

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