The topic of theme came up during a recent conversation I had with my older brother who is serving overseas.  Normally we talk about movies, the latest computer he put together, and crazy stories from his service but this time we talked about a story he had been working on for almost two years.  He had tons of really cool ideas, talking me through scenes, describing his anti-heroine, and how he plans to weave in historical events.  We exchanged possible scenarios, motives, and possible endings that got us even more excited about his work and helping him write it. 

So after playing the super supportive and excited little sister, I had to stop and put on the writer’s cap.  We could have on forever but at the end of the day if I was going to help get his idea down into a coherent series of stories there were a few things I needed to know. 

So one of my first questions was: “What’s your theme?”

“Well it’s about this girl who is –“

“That’s not theme. That’s the story.  What is the concept you’re trying to convey?”

“Um…I dunno.”

So I explained to him that every story has a theme, or something I define as a universal concept that we can find in life, and the story is the vehicle in which you convey that them to your readers.  As I continued to ramble on (and actually sound like I knew what I was talking about) I broke down why figuring out your theme early on is so important.

Your Theme is Your Message

Writers write because we have something to say to the world and if we do it right, our readers will get the message.  Your theme can be anything from Nature is at war with each of us and proves our vulnerability to Death is a part of life.  My brother tells me that he wants to have something different.  The time to be unique isn’t in picking your theme, because these ideas are universal.  They can be seen in literature time and time again no matter what story you’re writing.  All you’ll do is drive yourself nuts only to find out whatever you came with points back to one that is already covered.  What makes you stand out is how you convey that theme i.e your story.

(Here’s a hand dandy list of common literary themes!)

Your Theme is Your Filter

My brother had so many cool ideas I was impressed by how creative he is! He even admitted that his story can go in so many different directions.  The theme will determine the path and once you have your theme, you have to take a good hard look at your ideas.  If they don’t do anything in conveying your theme it has to be tossed.  If it does, then keep it.  Going through this process helps you weed through those gazillion ideas you have.  Not only does it make your brain feel a whole lot lighter, it gives you the direction you need in order to start fleshing out your story and your characters.

What say you?  What are your thoughts on theme?

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