I get a lot of emails and basic social buzz on all sorts of writing, but one in particular struck me as odd recently, it was on the question of theme in writing.  And if as writers, is theme considered before, during, after or not at all during the process?

Being that this question came up in a writer’s group – the answers were doubly astounding to me.  So many aspiring writers cannot even define theme!  Now, I know full well everyone has a story to tell, but if you want to actually make a living or even just get your story to the masses, you MUST take the time to learn and understand the elements of story.  And of course, how they are represented in the 1st 10 pages.

There are six at the core:

1)   Theme

2)   Plot

3)   Title

4)   Beginning, Middle and End

5)   Protagonist

6)   Antagonist


I’ve mentioned the apparent ambiguous nature of theme and how it confuses some writers, but really the writer’s thematic point of view can be summed up very simply (and this applies to any writer for pages, screen, blog whatever)…

Why are you writing this story? Thematic p.o.v. can only be from one person, the one creating the story clearly has an idea of what they want to say, what their take on romance, sorrow, friendship, fear, forgiveness, success, the things that make us feel a certain way, are the things that make up the writer’s thematic intentions.

A simple example is the theme of LOVE:

Does your story focus on how love conquers all?  That love is hard, but worthwhile?  That there is only one true love for each person? That love sucks? That love is attainable if you do one thing? That love can only experienced if you love yourself first? Etc. etc.  You get the picture.

When you sit down to write your first draft you may not have a full grasp on your thematic p.o.v., but if you consider the broader aspect of what you are writing, the theme will continue to develop as your characters do, so when you do your rewrites, you can pepper your story with elements that support your theme throughout — even in incidental characters, settings, props and action. Don’t beat the reader over the head with theme, but fact is, if they don’t know what your theme is they will also not be able to recall your story, if they finish it at all.

Lastly, the actions of your protagonist serve the function of expressing the theme.  In the 1st 10 pages of your story, you certainly need to show the broad theme (ie: LOVE) and you should at least allude to your thematic p.o.v., because by page 10 we have to know what world of story we have entered.  And yes, some stories don’t specifically point out the crux of the thematic point of view until the climax, and that’s absolutely great. (because it is the reverse of your story arc)  But, those really good stories that you read/watch, over and over do mention it, usually by page 5.  Go look, I promise.

Next up Plot – stay tooned.