February 1, 2011

thematic endeavors

Now, all through school, when we'd finish reading a short story or novel for class, the teacher would ask, "what is the theme?"

Honestly, I never knew.

We find theme in the spaces between the writing, in the margins, and in the counters of individual letters. To really define the theme of a story, we have to ask hard questions:

What is the story really about? If you had to boil down its essence to a  single word or phrase, what would it be? What single idea or quality is it about? What are you trying to say?

Love? Trust? Betrayal? Vanity? Prejudice? Greed? Madness? Ambition? Friendship? Love conquers all? You can't cheat an honest man? We must work together to survive? Money is the root of all evil? Life isn't fair?

The theme of a story is an underlying statement or assumption about an aspect of life. Oftentimes, the theme appears in the beginning. A character may express a certain belief. That belief is then rigorously tested in the course of the story.

The real theme of a story may not emerge or announce itself until we have worked with the story for a while, but sooner or later, we have to figure out what it is. Knowing the theme is essential to making the final choices in dialogue, action, and setting that turn a story into a beautiful, coherent design. In a good story, everything is related somehow to the theme.

Without a theme, stories may feel flat and without depth. If we employ a theme throughout the course of our stories, they become much more satisfying. The more levels we add to the story and the deeper those levels go, the more entertaining the story will be for the reader.

Think about what your story is about. Ask the hard questions. You may just surprise yourself.

1 comment:

  1. I was never good at identifying theme! But now that I'm the one doing the writing, it has suddenly become a lot more important. So, I'm working on it.