3 Steps To Help You Find Your Story's Theme

3 Steps To Help You Find Your Story’s Theme

Use this post to help you find your story’s theme.

This post is all about theme. We will explore the definition of a theme, give you examples of themes, and we will go through three steps that will help you find your theme in your story.

When we teach writers how to write a novel or a memoir, we emphasise how crucial theme is in the process. 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.

A theme in a book should never be stated, but should be developed through character changes and plot escalation. A theme can be strengthened by the use of motifs.

In The Art Of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri says well-defined characters drive plots. He emphasises the consistency of change in life. Characters have to adapt, evolve, and ‘synthesise’ new philosophies. They do this after facing many overwhelming obstacles.

What is a theme?

  1. Theme is the central idea of the story.
  2. It is better if it is a full statement, with a subject and a verb.
  3. It sums up what the story shows us about the human condition. It is not a moral. It is simply a statement.

Examples:

  1. Crime pays.
  2. Honesty is the best policy.
  3. Who dares wins.
  4. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
  5. Home is where the heart is.
  6. The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.
  7. You never really know anybody.
  8. People are predictable.
  9. People with nothing to lose are dangerous.
  10. Love conquers all.
  11. Blood is thicker than water.
  12. You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.
  13. What does not kill you makes you stranger.

It’s About The Meaning

If you understand your plot, the parts your characters, especially the protagonist and the antagonist, play in the story, and the effects this plot will have on your characters’ lives, you will find the meaning of your story.

Once you understand the meaning, you will find the theme.

3 Steps To Help You Find Your Story’s Theme

Ask these three questions to find your theme.

1. What is the story about?

This is the plot of the story. 

Example: My story is about a man who hunts down the men who were acquitted after they killed his family.

2. What is the meaning behind the story?

This is usually an abstract result of his actions.

Example: My story says that when the system fails a person who has lost everything, he will find out how far he is prepared to go.

3. What is the lesson?

This is a statement about the human condition.

Example: People with nothing to lose are dangerous.

The Lajos Egri Theme Cheat Sheet:

Lajos Egri gives this simple formula to develop a theme.

____________________ leads to _______________________

Examples:

  1. Your wife committing adultery leads to you finding out you never really know anyone.
  2. Embezzling money from your company and getting caught leads to you understanding honesty is the best policy.
  3. A woman who meddles in other people’s marriages leads to her realising that fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

How A Theme Helps

Once you have a theme for your book, use it to check if every scene fits in your novel.

Ask yourself: Does this scene build your story’s theme?

Sources: The Basics of FictionWriters Write and Lajos Egri

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this, read these posts:

  1. 5  Really Good Reasons To Outline Your Novel
  2. Why Revenge is Such a Brilliant Plot for Beginner Writers
  3. Cheat Sheets For Writing Body Language
  4. Basic Plot Structure – The Five Plotting Moments That Matter
  5. 9 Literary Terms You Need To Know
  6. 106 Ways To Describe Sounds – A Resource For Writers

TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.

Posted on: 17th September 2013
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