We often discuss the different elements of writing fiction here at TKZ. Topics such as plot, narration, characterization, dialog, and point of view are just a few that come up now and then. But a topic that’s not touched on as often is theme. Theme is usually a global statement on what a book is about. Theme goes beyond plot by conveying the message that supports the structure of the story. In many instances, it expresses a lofty idea usually revolving around human emotions or life in general.
A good starting point in determining a book’s theme is to first establish its subject or topic. This is normally expressed in a one-word description such as love, revenge, jealousy, fear, deceit, betrayal, etc. The theme can then be found by turning the subject or topic into a short, focused statement.
So for instance, if the subject of a novel is fear, the theme could be fear exposes the true nature of an individual. If the subject is revenge, the theme could be by taking revenge, you become just like your enemy. If the topic is betrayal, the theme might be that betrayal only hurts the ones you love.
A book’s theme can teach or preach. The former is preferred. No one wants to be preached to. But we all desire to build upon or confirm our beliefs. The theme can address “big” issues such as the meaning of life. Or something more manageable like crime doesn’t pay.
Whatever the theme, all stories have them. How well they come across without being “in your face” relies on the skill of the author.
What is the subject or topic of your favorite book(s)? And what was the theme? Did you feel the writer was teaching or preaching? How about your own work? Do you knowingly have a theme before you start writing?