What is “theme”?

Theme is an important element of any story, yet strangely it’s one many writers overlook. Perhaps those writers consider theme to be an unimportant story element, or maybe they believe it’s one that will evolve naturally as they write (which may well be what eventuates). Whatever a writer’s reason, failing to explore their story’s theme is to its detriment. A story with a theme that hasn’t been fully developed with intention is one that fails to engage and compel readers. 

Theme is often defined in different ways. While some writers consider a story’s themes to be the universal themes or central topics explored throughout the story, others consider it to be the thematic statement or message — the opinion, moral or question the writer conveys (which we’ll explore further in Step 4). Some may get completely confused and consider the trope to be the story’s theme. But while the trope may hook the reader, it’s the theme that speaks to them.

For our purposes, we will consider the theme of a story to be those universal themes or central topics to which all human beings can relate. Usually, themes can be defined in one word; for example, romance stories explore the themes of Love and Intimacy. Action stories might explore themes of Courage and Survival, while mysteries might explore Justice and Safety. Sometimes themes can be more specific, such as Good vs Evil, or Love Conquers All. Other themes common in the romance genre are Friendship, Connection, Belonging, Family, Identity, Fate, Trust, Passion, etc.