Do you have any idea what the theme is? How do you go about choosing a theme? As writers, we all want our stories to be powerful and make an impact. Implementing themes into our work is one way to get there.
In this post, we’ll explore what theme is, how to choose a theme, common themes and how to use it effectively in your writing.
Theme is the underlying message or meaning of a story. It’s what the reader takes away from the text beyond the plot and characters.
♦ For example, the theme of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is the inherent injustice of racism and prejudice.
Plot is what happens in a story, theme is the reason why. The theme can make a story stick with readers because it’s what makes it memorable and thought-provoking.
How to Choose a Theme
To create a theme, work out what your story is really about. Go beyond the surface and think about what message you’re trying to send. You might ask yourself:
♦ What do I want readers to take away from this story?
♦ What themes or topics am I exploring in my work?
♦ How can I tie my characters and plot to a larger idea or message?
♦ What kind of emotional response do I want my readers to have when they read my story?
♦ What symbols or images would strengthen my theme?
♦ How can I look at both sides and make my theme and story more interesting?
Once you get the idea of your theme, keep it clear and consistent in your story. You could emphasize certain plot elements, try symbols, or compare novel concepts.
What are Some Common Themes in Novel Writing?
Here are some common themes in novel writing:
This is a really popular theme in literature. Novels usually tackle different love, like romantic, family, and self-love.
Coming of age
You often see a person going on a journey of personal development and becoming an adult. The novel could look into themes of identity, growing up and independence.
Loss and Grief
Novels about loss and grief often examine sadness, how to handle it and come to terms with it. These stories can be really powerful and heartbreaking.
Good vs. Evil
This topic pits a hero against a villain, looking into the fight between good and bad. The novel could cover themes of morality, justice, and power.
This theme looks into who we are and how we fit into the world. Novels that look into ‘who you are’ can touch on finding out more about yourself, embracing yourself, and identity within culture.
Power and Corruption
Books about power and corruption often look at greed, morality, and the misuse of power. The protagonist might try to beat a broken system, or they might get broken themselves.
Books about surviving often explore topics of determination, bouncing back, and the human capacity to endure. These stories can be intense and gripping.
Freedom and Oppression
This theme looks into the fight for freedom against controlling powers. The novel could tackle issues of justice, rebellion, and the power of a community.
These are just a few examples of the many themes that can be explored in novel writing. As a writer, it’s your choice what themes you want to investigate in your writing and how to show them.
Using Multiple Themes
Of course, a writer can use multiple themes in a story. A bunch of outstanding books look at heaps of topics in deep, sophisticated ways. Adding more themes adds depth to a story and allows us to look at the human experience in more depth.
Just be careful not to cram too many themes into a story, or have themes that don’t work together. Make sure the themes you choose fit into the story without feeling like you’re forcing it. A good writer can juggle different themes, but it’s important to do it carefully and thoughtfully.
Examples of Multiple Themes
♦ Keri Hulme’s The Bone People looks into identity, trauma, language, plus the value of community. In Hulme’s story of a Maori woman, a mute boy, and a Pakeha man living in New Zealand, we see how people can recover from previous hurt and build relationships with one another.
♦ Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner delves into friendship, betrayal, redemption and Afghanistan’s intricate past. With the story of an Afghan boy and his Hazara pal, Hosseini examines the horrible effects of war and violence on people and society.
♦ The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger explores themes of alienation, identity, and the loss of innocence. Through the story of Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy expelled from prep school who struggles to find his place in the world, Salinger investigates the difficulties of maturing and the waning of innocence that accompanies it.
What are the Elements of Theme?
Theme elements can depend on the writer and how they tell their story, but here are some usual ones:
Central idea or message: It’s the main idea that ties all the elements of the story together.
Universal relevance: A powerful theme has a wide reach, helping readers connect to it on a deeper level.
Characterization: Characters often give us insights into the story’s theme. Beliefs, values and actions of characters should express the theme.
Plot: The plot should link to the theme being examined. Characters, conflicts and resolution should show the theme.
Setting: Setting can add depth to the story. Time, location, and atmosphere can shape the story.
Symbolism: Symbols can reinforce the theme. Symbols can stand for bigger ideas connected to the theme.
Including these theme elements in writing will make the story more powerful and create a deeper connection with readers.
Examples of Themes
Now that we have explored the types and the importance we can check out how some themes from literature.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses free will as a major theme. The play delves into what comes of Macbeth’s decisions and how his fate is out of his hands. The characters’ decisions and the supernatural elements in the play show the theme of fate versus free will.
The theme of this novella, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, is the alienation and isolation of modern society. Kafka explores this theme through the character of Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect and becomes a social outcast.
Things Fall Apart
The theme of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, is the clash between traditional African culture and European colonialism. Achebe explores this theme through the character of Okonkwo, a proud Igbo warrior who struggles to maintain his cultural identity in the face of colonialism.
The House of the Spirits
This book looks at how political violence affects families and how important their community is. Allende delves into this idea by telling the tale of the Trueba family. The political and social chaos totally disrupted their lives in Chile during the 1900s.
In the novel, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the author looks at the struggle of keeping your culture alive when you’re living in a new place. Lahiri dives into this theme through Gogol Ganguli’s story – the son of Indian immigrants to the US, struggling to fit in and find an identity in a culture that’s often conflicting.
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10 Tips to Choosing a Theme
There are lots of ways writers can choose a theme for their fictional novels. My advice…
1. Choose a theme that you really connect with. Crafting something is a highly personal and emotional experience, so pick a topic you’re enthusiastic about and can identify with on a deep level.
2. Consider the genre of your story. Different genres often have different themes that are common or expected. For example, a romance novel might focus on themes of love and trust, while a thriller might explore themes of power and control.
3. Think about your target audience. Think about the topics your readers are likely to connect with based on age, passions, and beliefs.
4. Look for universal themes. Love, loss, and identity are topics everyone can relate to, no matter their culture, age, or background.
5. Explore current events and social issues. Giving your story a sense of urgency with relevant themes can help readers engage with it.
6. Consider your own experiences and observations. Drawing from your own experiences can give you real, personal themes.
7. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and stereotypes. Challenging assumptions and stereotypes can be powerful, making your story stand out.
8. Choose a theme that allows for conflict and tension. Conflicts and tensions make for an exciting story, so pick a theme that has lots of potential for that.
9. Avoid cliches and overused themes. The hero’s journey and coming-of-age stories have been told so many times, so try to come up with a unique twist that’ll make your story special.
10. Be open to change. Don’t be afraid to have a bit of fun with different themes as you write – they can evolve and change over time, so keep experimenting until you find the one that suits your story.
Last Words on Choosing a Theme
To sum up, begin by determining what message or meaning you want to convey. Consider how your characters and plot can support this message, and try adding symbols or metaphors to strengthen your theme.
Don’t be too overbearing with your theme. Instead, make your theme clear through character growth, conversations, and visuals.
Feature image by Barbara Bonanno from Pixabay.