Monday, 6 February 2017

Infallable Writer's Guide - Theme

Why is theme important? What even is theme?

A lot of writers have asked those questions. (including myself) but recently I was talking about theme with some other writers online and one person said, "I don't think my novel has a theme."

This really interested me and as I thought about it later on I saw the obvious fault. Yes it does have a theme. Maybe the writer didn't know what it was, but every. single. story. has a theme.

The real question is: What is my story's theme.

So obviously this post is my thoughts on that topic, because I have brilliant experience in these areas of greatest knowledge and etcetera. (Or actually I'm just in the middle of Kingdom Pen's Theme Mastery course which is super super epic and amazing (aka everyone go buy it as soon as it's finished) and this is my ramblings and thoughts and notes from several of the lectures.)

But what does theme do?

A good question. Theme sets the stage for the entire story and the underlying message. A theme shows, where a message tells. (it's the show-don't-tell thing again, I know) There's three things about your story that you should know. Its Theme, Focusing Question and its Message.

First off, it's important to know that a theme is different than a message. The message is more a moral point of the story, but the theme is the idea and belief behind that. And a focusing question is the thing that joins those two things together.

For example, I might have a story with a theme of Hope and Light. My focusing question is How do you find hope in the darkness? Moving along to the message, I just have to answer that question.

Problem being, there's more than one answer. I could answer 'don't run from failures, accept and work through them' or 'trust in the Power who plans all.'

The answer could also be to ignore the darkness, or pursue life's enjoyment, or smother the hopelessness with fleeting hope in drugs/alcohol.

Obviously this isn't the sort of message I want coming through in my story. Nonetheless I can use those bad answers.

Maybe my character starts off ignoring the darkness, locked in his own little world and trying to keep everything else out. At some point then he's going to come face to face with a darkness too big that he can't ignore it any longer and he runs. 

After that, he realises that ignoring something doesn't make it disappear. Then he's got to find a different way to find hope in the darkness. He could choose to accept the past, and work forward.

So how can I find out my story's theme?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

There's a bunch of questions you can answer that will help with that one. Take a look at your protagonist. 

1: Have they wrestled over any issues/sin habits? (what strengths and flaws do they have?) 

2: How does your character change over the course of the story? (what do they learn?) 

3: What are the most emotional parts of your story? (why is it emotional? What is your character struggling with?)

Take Fred for example. Fred starts off his story with a terrible temper. Over the course of the story he learns to stop snapping at people and care. An emotional point is when he loses his temper and almost killed his friend who was trying to help him.

We can see from this that Fred's story might have a theme of kindness or self-control. Note here that a theme is not: 'you must have kindness and self-control to get anything from life.' A theme is a broad topic, the general idea based in the very core of your story -kindness and self-control.

A good Focusing Question strikes at the core of who we are. How do we find hope in the darkness? Deep down inside there's a patch of that darkness desperately wishing for hope.

That can be hard, to address those hidden places in ourselves, but the more you understand yourself, the deeper and more rich your theme will be.

Another thing I know I've struggled with is whether my theme and story is 'Christian' enough. I've never mentioned God, and I don't know how to without being preachy. But that's just the thing.

Christians write Christian Fiction naturally 
-even if God isn't explicitly mentioned in the book. 
Our faith will show through the theme.

And that really struck home to me, because I feel like I get it now. I don't need to tell that in my story. My theme worked out in practice through the story will show it.

Don't forget, the goal of literature is to teach and delight. Without the teaching, it's pointless and time-wasting. But without the delight it's like an essay, or a sermon. There has to be a balance of both aspects to create a beautiful, unforgettable story.

So there we are. My thoughts and notes on theme in stories. (Seriously though, go check out everything Josiah has to say about theme. He puts it so much better than I do -and I learnt pretty much everything I've written here from his stuff) I'm pretty sure this turned into an incoherent mess but...oh well.

What are your thoughts on Theme?
(do please tell because I really want to know more about it)
Also, I recently helped a friend -Antontella Rose- start a blog, so go check it out immediately :)
(and she's planning to start a choose-your-own-adventure story some time *rubs hands eagerly*)


  1. Thoughts on theme and story writing, ahh why does it all have to be so hard, especially obscure things like theme, which are soo important.

    1. Theme is massively important, but yes it can be so hard!

      I spent aaages trying to work out what in the world was my story's theme and then what in the world was the focusing question and then how in the world I was meant to answer that question. :P But it is a really good thing to be able to find out and know.

  2. I honestly don't know why you're rubbing hands eagerly. I can feel the whole story about to blow up in my face. *hides behind chair* And I haven't even started yet!!
    As to theme, I think you did a good job of finding those three things in your story, because I know I hate doing that sort of thing. Not to mention if I tried I probably couldn't find them anyway, because I'm terrible at answering deep questions like that where they involve a lot of deep thinking. I would get really frustrated.
    By the way, what story and what was the theme, focusing question and the answer to that question ?

    1. Don't worry, it's going to be great! (but don't be intimidated by my enthusiasm, you'll be fine) :D

      It was quite difficult. Thinking up the answer to the focusing question is definitely the hardest part because you really do have to dig in deep to find the answer. But it's also quite helpful to know it.

      The example theme, focusing question and message are from Rogue Escarlate - my current Work In Progress. (The Fred example was NOT, it was just randomly from off the top of my head :P)

  3. This was soooo helpful, thank you! Theme is something I've really been struggling with, lately, because every time I try and write one into a book it turns preachy, or feels fake. This laid everything out clearly and simply and in one place. Thank you!

    1. Eek thank you Brianna!! It honestly makes me so excited to know that this helped.

      Preachy has always been a horrible dread of mine, and I never really understood the concept of theme until really recently, so I completely know what you mean.

      Thank you for dropping me a comment! (Because seriously, it was a super encouragement)

  4. Love your blog so much, Jane!! <3 The design is lovely and your about page is so sweet. Keep up the great work! I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.
    p.s. I'm a smeller of books too. ;)


    1. Thanks heaps!! *can't stop grinning* I'm so glad you like it.
      (yesss, book-smell is totally the best though :P)

  5. I didn't realize you were on Kingdom Pen. Still not sure you you are.
    And in case you have no idea who I am since I haven't commented before, I'm a ninja and know Clare and Alice slightly. And I go by Anna Brie on KP.

    1. I'm not actually on the forum (although I've been thinking about it), but I do stalk the blog and videos and subscribe to the newsletter and everything.

      Oh yay for Ninjas. :D I'm a Ninja too, only I don't have Facebook so I'm a bit unknown. You might've heard them mention me though. *shrugs* (and because I'm such a stalker, I do know of you :P)

    2. Okay makes sense. And they have mentioned you at least once. Also one of my brothers reads your serial stories and tells me about them.

    3. Yup.
      Wait...your brother reads my serial stories?? Eep. That makes me so excited! (THANK YOU BRIE'S BRO) It really makes my day to hear that. <3


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