Write Better, Right Now #19

Finding Your Story’s Themes

Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post helping writers understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level. For writers looking for open pitch calls, writing jobs, and challenges to grow their career and craft, check out 1-2-3 Publish!

Write Better, Right Now’s topics for May:


At the beginning of the month, I defined what themes were and how they differed from thematic statements. Themes are the underlining subjects or topics at work within your story like school, government, friendship, etc. Only the most cliche basic stories lack themes. Even if you don’t intentionally put them in your stories, more often than not, themes will crop up in your work.

Like with thematic statements, you can use them intentionally to steer how you design your characters, build your story, and craft your world. For a lot of writers, themes are easier to work with and identify than thematic statements because they are less concrete. Not only are they more abstract, but you can have multiple themes in a story. Your characters, scenes, and different settings can each have their own themes.

Let’s get into it more below!


Techniques

Like thematic statements, themes aren’t necessary, though readers may find themes in your work you did not intend. To help steer your story in the right direction in the reader’s mind, elect specific themes you want to explore in your story. Now, a theme can be any idea like love, dating, alcoholism, fighting, capitalism, or stoicism. The list goes on and on.

Personally, I think finding the themes of your work is a lot easier than finding the thematic statement of your work. Doing it before you start writing is a helpful activity at figuring out what type of story you want to write and what you want it to be about. Waiting till after your story is done to find your theme allows you to let your story show you what its themes are.

To find your story’s themes, examine your story idea or seed for the elements at play and relationships. If your main characters are a parent and child, write down all the possible themes that may come up in that relationship. You could have themes about parental relationships, growing up, aging, love, rebellion, and so many more.

But maybe your story is a bit more complicated than just a list of themes. Well, you can also pit themes against each other to create a charged story with a lot of push and pull. The story of the parent and child can explore themes of justice vs injustice, trust vs betrayal, reckless youth vs saged wisdom, etc. These types of stories will often have more conflict and tension in them because two opposites are working against each other trying to prove which one is right.

Like I said, though, you don’t have to have themes or intentionally set them. If you do want to have them and set them, then examine your story’s main or driving idea and the relationships shared between the characters. You can create a mind map or simply list themes that come to mind. More often than not, your themes will spring from the relationships between your characters and their institutions (jobs, responsibilities, penalties, etc.).


Exercise

Examine a recent story you loved. It can either be a short story, poem, book, movie, video game, or TV show. Write out all of the story’s themes you can identify and how each theme is represented in the story. Is there a justice theme and a security guard character? Or maybe a theme of love and a new budding relationship. Connect how the author used the themes in their work.

Then do the same thing to a recent work in progress of yours. Identify all the themes you are working with and how you’ve connected them to other aspects of your story. Compare your theme notes to the ones you took on the first story.

Is your story as layered as the story you loved? Where can you make your themes more connected or zero in on them?


*I’m going to start bringing these resource sections back. Sorry I stopped for a bit!

Resources

  1. Connecting the Elements of Your Story with Theme
  2. Common Themes and Examples
  3. 101 Literary Themes
  4. How to Choose the Perfect Theme for Your Story
  5. How to Write Theme into Your Story
  6. How Great Writers Develop Their Themes

Write Better, Right Now’s topics from April:


If you were able to learn something new today, consider subscribing below to At Home Pro Writers to continue getting writing advicelinks to open pitch callsultimate writing guides, and more. Or check out the writing and editing masterclasses I offer!

Please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on themes and finding them in your work. Or your struggle areas with them in your writing! I’d also love to know how you made out with the exercise. Catch you next week for our Write Better, Right Now posts on enhancing both your story’s themes and thematic statement.

2 thoughts on “Write Better, Right Now #19”

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