Writing Tips

Thematic Elements

I’m finally posting about themes in stories! This is important to me, because this is what I believe puts the magic in a story. I promised a little while ago, in Likeness, that I would go into more detail about theme, so here it is.

The theme of a story is the underlying message like what you find in Fables. But here’s the thing, your story doesn’t have to be preachy, and maybe unless it’s a children’s fable, it shouldn’t be. The theme should be as much a part of the story as the character. In fact, the theme is a part of the character arc.

Defining Theme in Stories

I had the opportunity to attend a class at a writing conference from a writer named Drake, in thoroughly enjoyed learning about writing theme. You can find some of the same material on his website, I attended the Dynamic Story Creation class, a crash course of all three parts. One of my favorite parts is how he pointed out that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Star Wars; A New Hope are the exact same story. A young man living with his aunt and uncle, meets a bearded man, learns how to use his powers, and his life is never the same again . . . The difference is, of course the little details, but more especially, the themes. Drake calls this the invisible layer of a story.

More specifically, the theme in a story is; two explored answers to the same question. For example, good vs. evil has both sides portrayed in stories. We know what happens to a villain so that we know that good is better than evil. It gets a little harder when you have more complex themes that don’t have obvious right and wrong answers. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin is a great example where Austin explores the human nature to rule with their mind or heart. You need to show the contrast of the two answers and have them both explored in the story.

Internal and External

With two answers to the theme, there are also two way to portray it. Star Wars has a battle of good vs evil with the rebels against the empire externally, and choosing the light side or the dark side, for a number of characters, internally. The theme should be present in the overall plot of the story, as well as the character arc.

Transformations

The most enjoyable part of a theme in a story is how it transforms the character. The theme of the story will be present throughout the character’s arc, and will actually be the battle they face. In the case of a story supporting friendship, a character will begin with no desire to open up to anybody. The events of the story will force them to make the choice over and over again about whether or not to trust someone. In the end, the character will realize that having one or more friendships is crucial to their survival or happiness.

This is why it’s powerful for the reader, because they can see the failures when the character took the wrong side of the theme. The reader will see the solution and want it for the character by the end. Taking away the thematic message, the reader will only realize they read a story about the character’s adventures.

Sharing time! I want to know what themes you want to use for a story. Some of mine are: the power/benefit of hard work and following dreams, rising to your potential, and following through with a desire to protect. Comment with a theme in your story, your life, or anything!

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