Let’s talk about writing themes. There’s been much confusion surrounding the topic of themes for some months now. Some fiction writing courses tell you not to worry about it in your first draft, others say you need to nail it down in the outlining phase. So, with this in mind, I wanted to throw my two cents in.
What is a theme?
The theme is the life lesson, moral or message about human nature that you convey to your reader.
Think back to the picture books that you read as a child. Each story had a clear message or moral such as ‘don’t tell lies’ and ‘always be kind’. These are themes. Of course, when you’re writing a 400-page book or novel, these messages/themes might not be as pronounced as those aimed at children but, for the most part, they are as clear cut.
When studying story themes at university, our lecture would ask us: What did the characters learn? What changed them, for better or for worse?
We would then pick out the defining messages and life lessons that the characters’ learnt within the stories. The messages are rooted in experiences that every human-being will encounter at least once during a stage in their lives.
When do you need to start thinking about it?
Okay, you have your story idea. You have your cast of characters. You may even have an outline (I’m looking at all you plotters out there). Now you may be wondering you should start perfecting the finer story elements, such as your theme.
You do not need to sit down with a pen and paper and figure out the finer details of your theme. As long as you have a clear character arc plotted or roughly formed in your mind then you have your theme.
Learn about character arcs and how to write them here
Your characters (primarily your protagonist and antagonists) are the glue holding your story together. If they have clear character arcs, you will already have at least one theme in your story. Look at what your protagonist or antagonist will learn by the end of the book. Will they learn to appreciate their family? Love themselves? Find the courage to overcome a fear?
I hope this provides a bit of clarity on the subject of themes. If you have any questions, write them in the comments and I’ll do my best to help.