Novel writingStory Details

What is the theme of your story?

From Rick:

Last week I put up the link to the podcast I participated in on “The Pros and Cons of Collaboration,” which ended up being the first part of two.

As of this blog post, Part 2 is not yet available. You can check for it at ASPECTS OF WRITING. I will hopefully be able to post the link next week.

What I found interesting while participating in the second part—and had not really thought about before—is that collaborations exist not only between authors but also between the author and the publisher. Even if you’re self-publishing, a collaboration has to exist between your writer self and your marketing self because if you don’t promote the work, no one else likely will.

In years past, the publisher took the main role in promotion, but today it is essential and expected that the author will play a major part in promoting the book. After all, it’s your book. If you believe in it, why would you want to leave its fate totally in the hands of someone for whom your book is only one of many?


Again this week, I’m giving myself a little break from writing a full blog post. Back in July, my friends at Reedsy sent me the link to their excellent article on THEME.

Have you ever been asked what the theme of your story or novel is? If an agent or editor or savvy reader is the one asking and you stumble over the question or start telling the plot of the story, then you make a very good impression. Worse, you will probably come across as an idiot rank-amateur writer, which is definitely not the best way to sell your work.

Some of you probably believe that “theme” is something that normally gets discussed in English and literature classes and isn’t important to the average reader. Most readers don’t consciously think about theme, and you almost never see it mentioned in reviews.

Theme exists in the background of a story, and while most readers may not be conscious of a book’s theme, it is something that they will feel. Theme is what resonates for the reader in a novel. While we may love the story and characters in the Harry Potter novels, it’s the theme (themes—plural—because there are several) that really made us fall in love with them. Theme exists at the core of any good novel, and the more powerful that theme, the more powerful the story. A strong theme is what makes the difference between a good story and a great story. Powerful themes are what make great literature great.

Think for a moment about those novels you truly loved, the ones you want to read again (and maybe have done so). What was it about those that had that effect on you? I’m willing to wager it wasn’t just the story itself but the underlying theme (whether you realized it or not) that made the real impression.

As I’ve come to expect from the Reedsy folks, they handle the question of theme in a way that makes it easy to understand the differences between the plot, the story, and the theme.

Understand that you don’t necessarily need to have a theme in mind, or even be conscious of it, before and during your writing. Sometimes (many times?) the theme will integrate itself into your writing subconsciously as you develop the story and your characters because, as the Reedsy article points out, stories are about the human condition. If you have developed your characters properly (and we’ve pointed out the importance of that in previous blogs here), then very likely your novel’s theme will arise from the characters.

Here’s the link to the article for you to dive in. After you’ve finished reading it, examine your own stories and novels to figure out the theme in them (even if they’re still works in progress). The theme may not be apparent at first, but if you think about it, the theme should reveal itself. If it doesn’t, maybe your story isn’t as good or as strong as you think it is—and that might be a reason to consider some revisions. A story without a meaningful theme of some sort is likely a dull story.