Jody Lebel
Published on: February 2013
A story with a theme is a story with a point. Every story has a theme and being aware of it will give your story focus as you write.How well you convey that to your reader will depend on your writing skills.

Here are 10 helpful hints:

1) A theme is not a motif. Love, hate and greed are motifs. The theme is the subject of your composition, a recurring and unifying idea. Loss would be the motif. That man can learn from loss would be the theme. Themes are often lessons learned. Hate can turn a person into a monster. Love will conquer all.

2) The elements of your story should support your theme. Your characters, plot, word choice and scenes can all go toward proving your theme. If your story is about a drug dealer who now regrets the suffering he has caused, forgiveness would be the motif and the personal gain of righting wrongs done to others would be the theme. Your story will swirl around his journey for clemency.
3) Theme should be an unconscious message that creeps into your story. It is not necessary to announce what the theme of your book is going to be. Your readers will get it without a diagram from you.

4) You may discover a theme emerging as you write. If that happens, go back and sprinkle in supporting material and delete things that are conflicting to your newly recognized theme. Perhaps you started out writing a sweet boy-meets-girl story but as you went along you realize it has become a tale of how mixed couples are not always accepted in our society. Now you need to go back and take out the warm 'meeting the parents' scene you wrote and change it to a scene where he struggles with a cold reception to support your new theme.

5) Your theme can change as you progress with the story. If you began writing a story about anger and discover it's turning out to be about greed, go with the flow. Don't stick to a theme that's not working. Just revamp it and go back and change a few details that now don't work.

6) Keep your characters true to the theme. A greedy man doesn't hand out twenty-dollar bills at the holidays. A liar doesn't worry about lying to his wife. A man truly in love doesn't cheat. If your theme is love hurts, the man truly in love is the one who has to get hurt. He doesn't hurt others.

7) Your theme is only one component of your story. Don't be heavy handed. Don't make it a sermon. As the story unravels stay true to your theme but be subtle.

8) On the other hand don't make it so light or veer so far off the path that no one can figure out what the theme is. Theme speaks to common experiences we all share. Man versus nature. Man versus himself. Your story could have more than one theme running at the same time. A piece about a man leaving his wife for a new woman could have the duo themes of 'the grass is always greener' and 'heartbreak makes you stronger'. Concentrate on the more prevail-ing theme that works for your particular tale. Trying to support two themes bogs down the story.
9) Symbols help the reader identify the theme. Let's say your story is about a young woman who yearns to leave her little farm town and live in the big city. Your theme is the grass isn't always greener and your motif is independence. Your symbols for her dream life could be fashion magazines on her kitchen table, pictures of New York City taped to her mirror, or bottles of bright red nail polish on her dresser sitting next to the ratty gloves she uses to milk the cows. Symbols of her current life could be piles of cow dung in the yard, a simple wooden house with fading planks, and an old dog with one ear lying on the porch.

10) Make the end justify the theme. The girl in the example above can't move to the city and live happily every after if your theme is the grass isn't always greener. She's going to have to come to understand the real grit of city living, the value of being close to one's family, and how to love herself for who she is.
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