When you are writing technical or business pieces, your theme is already quite defined. However, when it comes to works of fiction, a writer might find it a little tricky to define the theme of their work.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the literary term theme is “the subject of a piece of writing.” You are right, that definition would not help a beginning writer at all.
The theme of a story, however, is not concrete at all. It can usually be summed up by a word like “love” or “truth” or “courage” or “happiness” – something abstract like that. The theme of your novel is what “love” (or whatever) means to you, given your own life experiences.
Well, maybe you think that love (of the romantic variety) is the greatest gift of all and the only reason for living. In that case, your novel would be an argument which “proves” this. Or perhaps you think that love is over-hyped and we’re all frankly a lot better off without it. Again, you would explore the reasons why you believe this is so in your novel.
Therefore, The Literary Term ‘Theme’ refers to what your novel is “about”, on a philosophical level.
Don’t be scared by the word “philosophical”. You don’t have to be a famed psychoanalyst to write meaningful, affecting literature. Your greatest strength as a novelist is your uniqueness. No one has ever seen the world through your eyes before…and so what the reader will be interested in is what love (or happiness, or whatever) means to you.
Why does the Theme of a Story, or a Novel Theme, matter?
If you write a crime/detective story with wonderfully rounded characters and a page-turning plot, that is great…
But if the novel, on a deeper level, is also an exploration of “guilt”, say, it won’t merely be a good read but will also provide the reader with something to think about, something that stays with them long after they have finished the novel’s final chapter. That is the power of theme.
Knowing the theme of a story also has a more practical purpose for novel writing. Put simply, your theme is your novel’s guidance system. It tells you where to go next and where you are going wrong…what to leave in and what to take out.
One final word of warning: It isn’t always possible to work out the theme of a story in detail before you start writing your novel. Even if you think you do, sometimes what you thought you believed will be altered by what you discover as you write.
The thing to do is to have a good think about your theme during the planning stage. Set your thoughts down on paper if you like. But always be prepared to make adjustments as you go.
Do you have any ideas, that you would like to share with us? Storymoja will reward one of our readers every month, for your participation in our Writer’s Blog. All you have to is either send us a piece of your work or comment on and rate the posts.
And with that I now usher you into this week’s reading.
Then Munga G. sends us into the story about a young woman’s journey through a world that is not favorable to her dreams. Judge Not.
Then all the way from Tanzania, Sandra Mushi shares the story of The Wheelbarrow Lady
Please continue sending your ideas about how to make your weekly reading more fun to email@example.com. And remember, all stories published on the Storymoja Blog will be eligible for the Crown of Story of the Week. The stories are posted every Monday. Please critique and vote for the story you believe should wear the crown. At the end of the week, the votes will be tallied and the story with the most votes will posted on the Storymoja Website as the Story of the Week on the Friday of the same week. To have your story in this weekly process please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org before Friday at 4pm.
Have a wonderful week!