Welcome to the PrintedFeet blog! Today’s literary discussion is on theme. Third, on our list, theme is defined by Dictionary.com as “a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art,” (Dictionary.com). In short, a theme is “the author’s purpose, meaning, or message,” (Lesha Myers, 104).
Theme provides your story with greater meaning and purpose. It allows readers to dig deeper into your writing. While some themes are incredibly evident (i.e. Androcles and the Lion depicts the benefits of helping others), others can be subjective. Take The Hunger Games, for example; some say the theme is defiance of immoral authority while others might say the theme is surviving against all odds. Both would be right because Suzanne Collins’ theme is open to interpretation. Other pieces have a very clear theme. The fairytale Beauty and the Beast has one clear, central idea: Don’t judge people based on their appearances.
So how might one go about adding a theme to their story? First, you’ll need an idea that you want your story to hinge on. What is your story about? Not the plot – the purpose. Is your main character trying to sort through webs of lies? Perhaps your theme could be the importance of honesty. Is the sister of your main heroine fighting a life-changing disease? Consider perseverance as your theme. Do you want to remind your audience of all-encompassing love or compassion? Courage in the face of disaster? Ask yourself what is the one idea you want your readers to take away from your story. Figure this out, and you’ll have you’re story’s theme.
Furthermore, you’ll need to weave your idea into your story’s construction. You can’t just stick a theme in at the end of your novel without confusing your readers. In her book Windows to the World; An Introduction to Literary Analysis, Lesha Myers lists three literary devices commonly used to reveal the theme. They are:
Each of these devices serves a specific purpose in creating the meaning of your story. Repetition brings your theme to the reader’s attention by placing it in the story multiple times.
Allusions can reference other situations in which a similar theme is present. For instance, a sentence such as “Love bled from him,” could be considered an allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for our sins. Likewise, words and phrases such as resurrection and silver coins also allude to historical, biblical events. Allusions such as these hint at other works and add greater depth to your story.
Imagery underlines your theme with visual representation. The mockingjay pin in The Hunger Games serves as imagery suggesting Katniss, like the mockingjay, is a creature the Capitol never wanted to exist. The rose in Beauty and the Beast is something that blooms in adversity.
Be sure to utilize these and other literary devices to bring your theme to the reader’s attention. If you want a powerful, memorable theme, choose something that will really resonate with your readers. A ‘coming-of-age’ theme will not be nearly as applicable to an older target audience as it will to a teenage readership. A theme about loving children could be more meaningful to an adult audience.
Lastly, think carefully about the purpose of your story before picking a theme. A story about a commoner fighting a dragon will host a theme of courage or fighting temptation better than it would love or gratitude. Conclusively, ask yourself what the meaning is behind your story, and modify that into your theme.
Theme gives your literary work true meaning. The deeper the purpose presented in your writing, the more memorable it will be. Theme can take an empty discourse about finding a dandelion in a hay field and turn it into finding hope in the midst of adversity. Use theme wisely and use it well.
I hope that you have enjoyed our third installment in the Creative Writing Elements series. Please visit us again to view our next topic: Intriguing Characters.
Until next time,