Friday, November 5, 2010

Literary Elements~Theme

Let's talk about theme. I remember when I first started writing (many years ago now) one of the first things I came across was theme. I just couldn't get my head around the subject, so I stopped trying to consciously figure out the theme for each story I wrote. I relied on the theme to emerge on its own.

Now I know far more about theme and the role it plays within my stories, I take it for granted. However, I think some of you will benefit from a quick breakdown of the subject if you so happen to be seeking this information.

Theme is the underlying meaning of the story you are telling. What your book is really about, if you like. I know some people take this to mean plots like: Secret Baby, Marriage of Convenience, Pretend Marriage, Best Friends to Lovers, Cinderella story, Second Chance Love etc.

These are not the theme of your story. They are plots/topics/genre themes. But they are not your story's theme.

Since the theme of your story is the hidden message—an opinion or statement about the plot/topic/genre theme you’re tackling—then we look for the basic emotional conflict of your story. Many writers will stick to the same message or concept without even knowing it. Do you find all your stories have something to do with the hero and/or heroine learning how to trust? Perhaps even learning responsibility? Acceptance? Or freedom? Unresolved grief? Fear of rejection?

Whatever your theme, I believe it's linked to your character's internal motivation and even your character's arc. What does your hero/heroine learn through the course of the story?

For instance, you can have a Pretend Marriage genre theme and the theme of your story can be ACCEPTANCE.

Perhaps the hero is looking to land a major contract for his company and he needs the decision-makers of the company he wishes to do business with to ACCEPT him in a certain light—that of a stable and loving married man.

While the heroine agrees to the idea of a pretend marriage with the hero because she is looking to make her matchmaking friends ACCEPT she’s off the market so they can stop trying to set her up with guys.

And in the course of the story your hero and heroine would have learned acceptance of a different kind, which finally leads to acceptance of each other and everlasting love.

Do you see how that worked? So genre theme is not the same as the theme of your story. You can relay this theme to your readers in several ways: through your character's actions and the story events; through their thoughts and feelings and also through dialogue and conversations. (I mention both dialogue and conversation because the two are not the same. Keep a look out for a future post on this subject).

Another example is, suppose you have a theme about death. Your characters will mention death in some form or other. Death will show up in other forms through the story: ie your heroine/hero is incapable of keeping plants alive. Perhaps the story might be set in winter when all the trees are bare and look a little dead. All these sorts of things help to convey theme.

Sometimes you can use more than one theme. When we use a couple of themes, we then have a major and a minor theme for our book.

I used two themes in Divorce Etiquette, a reunion/second chance story. My minor theme was fear of rejection and the major theme was unresolved grief. This meant death invariably came up through the course of the story—death of relationships as well as people. To show life and new beginnings in Divorce Etiquette I set the climax in spring and used the new green leaves on trees to symbolise life and new beginnings. No doubt this is lost to the reader on a conscious level but she'll feel the story has an added depth she enjoys. Or at least I hope so! ;)

Theme can really add depth to your story, so if you don't usually bother with finding your story's theme, please reconsider because it also gives your writing focus and saves you wandering off in all sorts of directions until you trip up, and fall into a plot hole :).

Thanks for dropping by to hang with me and garner my take on the literary theme.

Until next time~ 

Close [x]


  1. I agree with Lacey. Excellent post, Monique!

  2. Fab post thanks, Monique - one that's made me sit back and think for a wee while. Nice one. Karen xxo

  3. Great tips about working out the theme. I suspect most of the time it's done subconsciously! Just recently I thread in the fact the heroine was terrified of fire. And she overcame it. Now I know, that was maybe my theme? Thanks Monique.

  4. Oh this was a good read and great tips.
    Thanks Monique for sharing. Of course I chime in late as usual.


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I greatly appreciate it! :) :)