The Role of Theme in Your Story

Creative Writing Tips: The Role of Theme in Your Story

Everyone has a story to tell. But if you want your readers to leave having not just enjoyed the ride, but feeling like they learned something about life, then you need a strong theme.

So, What IS Theme, Anyway?

  • The Big Idea: Theme is the underlying message about life or human nature that your story explores. Think love, loss, morality, good vs. evil…
  • More Than a Topic: “Friendship” is a topic. A theme would be the ways true friends stick together through tough times.
  • It Doesn’t Preach: Good themes are woven subtly through events, decisions, and the consequences your characters face.

Why Bother with Theme?

  • Depth: Theme elevates a story from mere entertainment to something that resonates on a deeper level.
  • Meaningful Choices: With a clear theme in mind, plot points, character flaws, everything serves a greater purpose.
  • Reader Connection: Powerful themes touch universal human experiences. That’s how a story lingers in your reader’s mind long after they finish.

Finding Your Theme

It might not hit you over the head right away. Try these:

  • Your passions: What gets you fired up about the world? Injustice, hope, the transformative power of love – those are great starting points.
  • Character Struggles: What’s the internal flaw your protagonist fights? Their journey in overcoming it can reveal a theme.
  • Ask “So what?” Your plot happened. So what? What’s the lasting message you want readers to take away?

Examples in Action

  • Cinderella: “Classic” but it’s not about fancy dresses, it’s about enduring kindness eventually being rewarded.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Power corrupts! But even small beings can resist evil… themes galore within a big fantasy epic.
  • “This is Us” (TV show): Family connections, how our past shapes us, finding love in all its forms – multiple themes, woven across generations

Time to Get Writing!

Don’t panic if you don’t have a grand theme figured out before page one. But try this:

  • Start with a question: What do YOU want to explore – the difficulty of forgiveness? The way fear holds us back?
  • Brainstorm: Jot down moments from your life, or history, that exemplify your question. This is raw material for your story.
  • Let it Simmer: Themes become clearer during the writing process itself. But with the question in mind, you’ll spot connections to build on.

Theme is what transforms a fun story into one that stays with your reader. It allows you to pour your own observations and beliefs into your fiction, leaving a small piece of yourself out there in the world.

Why Should You Care?

  • Stories with impact: Theme gives your story depth, making it memorable and thought-provoking long after the reader closes the book.
  • Intentional writing: Theme helps you make purposeful creative decisions – from plot twists to character flaws – creating a cohesive and satisfying story.
  • Connection with readers: Exploring universal human experiences through theme allows readers to relate deeply, cementing your story in their hearts and minds.

Key Takeaways

  • Theme = the underlying message: It’s the big idea about life, the human condition, or the world that your story conveys.
  • Subtlety is key: Great themes aren’t preachy, but revealed through character experiences, consequences, and the hard choices they face.
  • Theme gives purpose: Having a clear theme helps create a stronger structure where every element serves the greater message.
  • Finding your theme takes thought: Explore your passions, character struggles, or ask yourself the “So what?” of your plot.
  • Theme can evolve: It’s okay to refine your theme as you write. Start with a question to explore, and let your story reveal its own heart.


  1. Theme: The central idea, message, or insight into life that your story conveys.
  2. Plot: The sequence of events and conflicts that drive your story forward.
  3. Character: The fictional people (or animals, creatures…) who inhabit your story world.
  4. Character arc: The growth or transformation a character undergoes over the course of the story.
  5. Universal experiences: Themes relating to common human emotions, struggles, triumphs: love, grief, finding your place, etc.
  6. Protagonist: The main character whose journey the reader primarily follows.
  7. Internal flaw: A character weakness (pride, fear, etc.) that gets in the way of their goals and creates inner conflict.
  8. Conflict: The struggles your characters face – external (other characters, nature), or internal (own flaws).
  9. Resonance: When a story stays with a reader, makes them think and feel – often due to a powerful theme.
  10. Creative writing: Writing that expresses imagination, ideas, and emotions, including fiction, poetry, and some forms of non-fiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does EVERY story need a grand theme? Not necessarily. Lighthearted stories work fine, but having some thematic thread makes them more satisfying.
  • What if I have multiple themes? Totally okay! Stories, especially longer ones, can explore various facets of human experience.
  • Can I add a theme retroactively? Absolutely! Analyzing an existing draft to uncover its inherent theme can make it stronger during revisions.

Myth Buster

  • Myth: You have to know the perfect theme before you start writing. Reality: Theme can emerge organically. Start with an intriguing idea and let the story guide you.

Let’s Talk

  • Think of a favorite book or movie. What themes did you pick up on, even subconsciously?
  • Do you often have story ideas first, or a thematic question you want to explore?
  • Can you think of a story where the LACK of a strong theme made it feel unsatisfying?

Let’s keep the conversation flowing! Share your opinions in the comments below.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<a href="" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

You may also Like

Recent Posts


Follow Us

Pin It on Pinterest