To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. – Herman Melville
Every day, new readers fall in love with old stories. Books that have been around for centuries are still adored. Yes, the characters are rich. Yes, the plot is thrilling. Yes, we have all memorized the setting.
However, what is the secret to the story? How do these books stand the test of time? There are millions of stories out there that we will never know about. They were lost because people didn’t care about them. They didn’t matter. How do the ones that survive give us the heart to change for the better? What about them impacts us?
The answer’s simple. It’s theme.
Last week, we looked at what theme is and how we can effectively show it to others through character arcs. If you didn’t read it, check it out here and then come back! Today, we are going to be looking at how YOU can put a theme in your story! Also, remember to subscribe so you can get the free theme worksheet!
Alright, so how do we put the theme into our stories? How do we effectively intertwine them? Remember when I was talking about character arcs? I’m going to show you how to use your character arcs to share your theme.
- Identify the Message
You have a message right? The point that you want to tell to the whole world. The purpose behind your madness? For an example, we are going to look at one of my all-time favorites: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. While I could just rave about this book for days, I will try to give you a practical example of how Jane Austen is a master at theme.
Some might argue that Austen is making fun of society at her time. While that is somewhat true, you don’t have to look hard to find what she was trying to convey. Just, look at the title. The message was Pride and Prejudice. She obviously felt strongly about how the people in her society were prideful and had prejudices. You need to pick your message and write it down. Is it anger, hate, love, greed, sacrifice, etc? the possibilities are endless.
- Identify the Arc
In Pride and Prejudice, we have two main characters. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. They both start at a place where they have not learned the lesson. They are both prideful and they both have prejudices about one another. Remember, we want our characters to go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Therefore, when you know your theme then you already know a great deal about your characters. For example, if you are trying to show love then you already know your character will be on the negative part of the arc in the beginning. Maybe they don’t love or have been abandoned so they don’t believe love is real. If it’s greed, then maybe they are a greedy person who uses others. Often, you can already plan your character’s goals, fears, and longings of the heart from the theme.
- Identify the Journey.
Remember, people don’t just magically change. In books, characters usually have to go through suffering or pain to get to the positive end. For example, Elizabeth went through the pain of having one of her sisters run away. Their whole family knew that their lives would be ruined and there was no hope of a future. Imagine all the books where characters have had to suffer to get to a better place. In Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley had to get over her prejudice and anger to be friends with Gilbert. Meg from A Wrinkle in Time had to lose her father and then almost her brother to win them back. Suffering is all over the place. Humans don’t like to suffer but it is a way through which we change. Hopefully, you now notice that all of these characters have gone through not only an external change but an internal change. They showed the negative part of the theme at the beginning and then through suffering changed into the person that the author intended them to be.
- Identify the Strategy
Lastly, authors must have a strategy for how they are going to tackle the theme. People do it in several different ways. Sometimes authors use many different people to teach them the same theme. Other times, just the villain teaches them the theme. Occasionally, we see nature, the government, or some outside force used to teach the theme. Really, the choice is up to you. Embrace it! You get to share with the world a theme through your characters!
Remember, the theme in a story is powerful. Use this gift! Subscribe so you get a free worksheet on crafting themes! Comment below on one of your favorite types of theme. Share this article on your social media and support this website for future writers!