Dummies’ Definition of Theme of a Story

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Novels like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Story and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind are memorable not only because of their epic length, but because the respective authors employed memorable themes through their work.  There are various aspects of a story fiction theme, but this post will carefully explore the definition of a theme of a story in order to gain a better understanding of this element for your story.

What are the essential story elements I need?

The elements that make up every great story are: character, setting, conflict, plot, and theme.  The character is typically a person, and he or she is depicted in a narrative or drama.  The setting includes the historical moment in time and geographic location in which a story takes place, and helps initiate the main backdrop and mood for the story.  The conflict involves a struggle between two opposing forces.  The plot is the story line of your novel.  The theme is a bit trickier.  Let us explore.

What exactly is a story theme?

Theme is a natural product of good storytelling.  In a novel, a theme is the deeper layer of meaning running beneath the story’s surface.  According to American author Dean Koontz, “Theme is a statement, or series of related observations, about some aspect of the human condition, interpreted from the unique viewpoint of the author.”

A theme may be stated directly or indirectly.  Further, you may have an idea for your story that repeats throughout the work – a major theme.  You may also include a minor theme that refers to an idea that appears briefly and gives way to another minor theme.

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After all is said and done, your story’s theme is the element of your story that will bind together the other essential elements.  The Editor’s Blog gives us a few thoughts on theme for which I provide workable examples:

Themes are often a declaration of the human condition – a truth that explains human behavior.  For example, the unbreakable bond between a father and his daughter.

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Themes may deal with a specific group.  For example, politician’s aids are ruthless or high school girls are mean.

Themes may deal with principles and abstractions rather than people.  For example, sacrifice means honor or there can be no gain without pain.

Themes don’t have to be true in the real world.  For example, as the author, you could hold the opposite viewpoint.

Theme is often stated in absolutes.  For example, all who sacrifice achieve honor.

Themes tend to be universal. For example, if love conquers all, this is true whether your story is staged around an 18th century aristocrat or a 19th century family.

Themes tend to be serious, even in humorous works.

How many themes do I need for my story?

Just as there can be a subplot to a plot, more than one setting, multiple conflicts derivative of a main one, and certainly many characters throughout a story, so too can there be more than one theme.  This is especially likely with a longer work of fiction like a novel.

Conclusion.

As you learned, a story’s theme has the potential to increase the memorability of a novel.  To that end, I presented to you an exploration into what a story theme is so that you might gain a better understanding of this element for your story.
For more tips on creating the fiction character that will carry your theme in part, 99 Questions Your Fiction Character Doesn’t Want You To Ask should capture your interest.
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