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The Importance of Themes

Defining a Theme

The theme in a story is its underlying message or 'big idea'. It is what the story means and what belief or idea about life or something, the author wants to convey in the writing. This is the central idea about your story.

It is the idea of how you as a writer see the world or a revelation about the human nature.

Why is a theme important?

In screenplay and writing, theme is the most important element. It is the driving intention behind the film or book.

More than one theme.

Often, a piece of writing will have more than one theme. The major theme is an idea that a writer repeats throughout his work. It forms the most significant idea or message in the work.

A minor theme refers to an idea that appears only briefly in a work, and can give way to yet another minor theme.

Example: the main theme may be: It is all about LOVE, with minor themes like friendship, affection etc.

Examples of theme statements:

1) Change your thoughts and you change your world. ...

2) Those who realize their folly are not true fools. ...

3) Life is too important to be taken seriously. ...

4) Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

5) It always seems impossible until it's done.

6) It's better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.

7) Life doesn’t require that we be the best, only that we try our best.

8) Rise above the storm and you will find the sunshine.

9) Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.

10) The best time for new beginnings is NOW.

11) Crime pays.

12) Home is where the heart is.

13) Love conquers all.

The best novels and the most life-changing memoirs you will ever read are the ones that help you discover a truth about the human condition.

Characters in a story are like humans, they drive plot. There are always changes in their lives. They have to adapt, evolve and learn new skills to survive the many challenges life throws at them.

What can themes be about?









Rich versus Poor


Good versus Evil

Courage and Heroism


Coming of age

Power and corruption


If you think about LOVE as a theme, think about the power of love. Relationships. The lessons people learn. The way lives changes forever. The way love built but also the shattering of hearts. The joy and the sorrow love can bring.

How to Find Your Story’s Theme

How do you identify theme in a story?

First, identify your story’s plot, the parts your characters play in the story( especially the protagonist and antagonist) and what is the primary conflict in your story.

If you understand your plot, the parts of your characters and the effects this plot will have on your characters lives, you will find the meaning of your story. Once you understand the meaning of it all, you will find the theme.

Questions writers have to ask themselves:

1) What is the story about? (This is the plot of the story)

Example: The story is about a woman who hunts down the men who raped her.

2) What is the meaning behind the story?

Everyone faces some kind of disaster in their life, the question is: what do they do with it? What is the effect of it on their lives and how do they live with it?

3) What is the lesson or message that you as writer is trying to get across to your reader?

Don’t let things get you under. Stand up, face it and move on.

4) Will this satisfies them emotionally and makes them feel they have just read a good story?

Will your story bring hope and courage?

5) Will your reader get the underlying message or big idea about your story?

6) What is the lesson you want your reader to get out of your story?

7) What statement do you want to make with your theme?

Rise above the storm and you will find the sunshine.


Everything LEADS TO something in life.

If you steal- you will be caught, loose your job, be sentenced to jail etc.

If your husband cheats on you- you’ll realise you can

’t trust anyone.

If your character is to doubt the woman he falls in love with- he may loose her in the end.

A theme in a book should never be stated. It should be developed through character changes and plot escalation. Use motifs to strenghten your theme.

Check if every scene fits in your novel and does this scene build your story’s theme?

Happy writing!


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