Choosing a Theme

Theme is the underlying message or meaning of the story. Every element of the story must reflect the theme. Sometimes you know the theme before you write, and sometimes you discover it after your first draft.

Ask yourself these questions.

Why did I write this?
What emotions do I feel?
What did I want to show?
Why did I choose this particular person for my main character? what does this character represent?
what is the meaning behind the character’s main speeches?
Here are some examples of theme: emotional growth comes through suffering;

Ways to develop theme:

Choice #1: Through Dialogue

a main character says the theme or thinks the theme
theme may be shown through thought, dialogue, and action throughout the story but it is generally stated somewhere near the end.

Choice #2: Through Character

the description and actions of a character illustrate the theme

Choice #3: Through Action

the theme is not stated but is implied through action
example: In “To Kill a Mockingbird” Tom Robinson is killed trying to escape; one of the themes in the novel is the importance of justice. Because Tom has been treated unjustly in a court of law and is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, he attempts to free himself. When he is gunned down, we see, once again, the injustice that is at the heart of Maycomb.

Choice #4: Through Motif

an image, like the refrain in a song, is repeated
example, a bus might keep recurring in a story, emphasizing that we’re all just transients, passing through this life

Choice #5: Through Atmosphere

the atmosphere or feeling in a story
in Wallendar, the books and the TV series, events often occur in open fields with no one around; the weather is dismal and grey, indirectly showing the theme of emotional barrenness, loneliness, and despair

Choice #6: Through Symbol

a symbol is stronger than a motif
example: a rainbow, a statue, a door, a book
the symbol doesn’t have to recur; it just has to be obvious

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