What’s the theme of your story? Does your story have more than one theme? What exactly is a theme, anyway? From theme weeks to theme parks to theme songs, the word is all around us, and yet what does it mean when it comes to a story?

Theme Defined

Regarding creative writing, a “theme is the main idea or underlying meaning a writer explores in a novel, short story, or other literary work.1” The theme is interwoven throughout the story. It is presented in various subtle and subtextual ways that give the story deeper resonance.

Theme or Topic?

Themes exist more implicitly, while a topic is more explicit. For example, suppose you are writing a story about poverty in America. In that case, the topic of the story is poverty. At the same time, you may present subtler themes of greed, oppression, or class throughout the narrative.  

Warring Themes

One of the classic themes is good versus evil, and it’s been used for millennia in morality tales, comedies, tragedies, literature, TV, and film. Pitting two themes against each other also allows you to showcase elements of character in your protagonist and antagonist in a way that shows their motivations and opposition toward the other thematic element. 

Emerging Themes 

As a writer, you know what story you wish to tell, but maybe you are unsure exactly what themes are being presented in your work from the start. Fear not. As you write and develop the story and characters, various themes will pop out to you. Sometimes they will emerge in your writing subconsciously. Once you have discovered them, you can fine-tune and polish those themes to heighten their importance.

Sledgehammer Subtle

Don’t beat the reader over the head with your themes. Weave them in throughout the work and allow the reader to discover and interpret the meaning they want. If you try too hard, your story may become preachy and read more like a morality tale. Again, take the time – whether you have planned out your themes in the early stages or not –to work them in without directly shining a spotlight onto them.

Final Thoughts

This is a basic overview of a theme as it relates to fiction. If you want to explore further, I highly recommend the article where I found the initial definition. Click the LINK for more.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!


MasterClass Article on Literary Theme

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