Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Writing and Identifying theme in your work

I don't know if you do, but I struggle understanding and identifying the specific theme of my stories. I went looking for a definition. According to, theme when used as a noun is defined several ways: 1) a subject of discourse, discussion, meditations or composition..., 2) a unifying or dominating idea or motif..., 3) a short informal essay, a school composition, 4) music..., 5) grammar, the element common to all or most of the forms of an inflection paradigm, often consisting of a root with certain formative elements or modifications... (Huh?)
Truthfully whether you "get" it or not theme is one of the most important things about a story and is integral to plot. Theme is the reason you write the story. It is what you, as the author, are telling the world. Knowing and understanding the theme you are exploring in your work will keep you on track and it will help you explain the work to agents and editors.
According to, there are two kinds of themes in writing, implied truth themes and simple themes. Most of my books have implied truth themes such as "love will prevail but it's not always easy," or "you are more than you think you are," and "no where is safe." Simple themes are one word themes such as "courage," "survival," "friendship," "sacrifice," and "growth."
Once you have identified your working theme be sure to state it early on in the work. Perhaps not literally but strongly.
Ex: one character can say to another, "there is more going on here than meets the eye." And the other can answer with a shake of the head, "you are one of those conspiracy theory crazies, aren't you?"
Or a character can pass a man on the street holding a sign that says, "The end of the world is near." Even if it's only the end of the character's marriage or career. It states the theme of the book. And begs the question, now what?
Putting theme into words is one of the hardest parts of story telling and yet, if you take the time to discover your theme, it will give you a clear path to follow whether you plot or pants your story. It will also help you with your tag line, synopsis and pitch. Don't just ramble, people, know what it is you want to say and then make sure you say it in a clear and concise manner.
Does theme come easy or hard for you? Do you find what you think is your theme but then readers find something else in your work? Does your theme change over the course of your writing? Curious minds want to know. Cheers~


Judy Croome said...

I think a mistake I made with my current (and first "serious" novel)this project was that I had too many themes, and I was too heavy handed in expressing theme. Through numerous re-writes (on draft 6 now) I've narrowed the themes down and I've made the expression of them much more subtle. (I hope!)

A good take on the topic though, Nancy!

Judy Croome said...

Sorry for all those mistakes - it's been a long day here! :(

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

The first time someone asked me about the theme of my manuscript, I froze. I almost said, “I’m supposed to have a theme?” Instead I think I managed to change the subject. When I got home, I explored the issue. My books are more implied truth themes, too – mainly the “you are more than you think you are,” but also involve the simple theme of growth. I am now better prepared for the question.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Judy,

I think I make that same mistake- too many themes. I want to say too much at once- I'm a talker like that. :) Thanks for stopping by. Cheers~

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane,

So nice to know I'm not the only one who "froze" when first asked this question. To this day I still struggle with too many themes or not specific enough themes.
So glad you found yours. Cheers~