Choosing a Theme for your Story

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

Now, I'm sure we've all had a bunch of lessons in school about themes while analyzing literature, short stories, or novels! It's no secret that the key to making a great story is having it revolve around a message that the readers can "take-away". But many writers (including me), sometimes find it hard to find that single phrase or sentence that sums up the entire book because there are so many subplots revolved around the characters and the development of the story, from the exposition to falling action. I recently did some research of my own and found the findings super helpful. Then I thought—I'm probably not the only one who's had to research this many times. That being said, I'm going to go through the step by step process of choosing and developing the perfect theme for your story. Read on, and enjoy.

Step 1: Knowing what a theme is

This shouldn't really be a step, but it's important that we all know what exactly we're trying to solve. A theme is a broad concept that an author is trying to convey through their work. Fully grasping the meaning can help you write a book's moral or lesson. An article by MasterClass describes some good instances of the main theme of a story. They go on to say that, "If a science fiction author writes about a future where humans are enslaved by robots that provide them with entertainment, the novel's theme may simply offer commentary about human nature as it relates to machines. This could be the basis of a powerful theme statement."

Step 2: Select some universal topics

Now what I mean by universal is that it has to be broad and vague in the beginning. You should ask yourself what part of your plot comes and goes in the stories of people. It could be as simple as a topic of love, humanity, hope, heartbreak, anything of that sort.

Step 3: Consider your story's genre

No story includes every genre, and you may find that your story may connect to one of these more than the others:

Crime - Good vs. Evil

Dystopian (my story's genre) - loss of self-direction

Adventure - Individualism

Romance - love and sacrifice

Young Adult - coming of age

It's important that you refer back to your genre when choosing a theme. If you want a message that will stick to your readers, you have to make sure it's already connected to your storyline, and the category it's associated with. For example, it would be odd for a romance novel to be entered around corruption and government control. While that could work as a secondary theme, the main one should be something readers will expect because of the genre of the work.

Step 4: Outline

I'm well aware of the writers who despise outlining. Well I'm here to tell you that if you're someone who hates outlining before a first draft, just do it afterwards. However, I'd definitely suggest doing it between the period of finishing your first draft and starting your second one. This gives you more direction with where you want your story to go, and allows you to arrange your events more thoroughly and with more detail. It will also especially help you with developing a theme, because every event will be in order right in front of your face.

Step 5: Ask yourself why

Figure out why you are telling this story in this specific way to begin with. Figure out what message you want to share with readers, and the outlook you are going for. This will really help you understand the main "take-away" of your work, because you'll understand your reason for writing this specific story and your intentions of what you plan to do with it.

This doesn't come easy, and I would be surprised if it did for some. Whether your story took months of outlining, or a simple light to shine the bulb in your head, these questions will come to you, before, during or after your many drafts. To find the theme around your work, you must ask yourself what it says about life.

Just imagine that your theme is life, just for a second. Now, find the connections between them, and write some key words that pop into your head when you do. Those are the topics around your story. But can you expand on that? Can you understand what makes your story unique enough to read? What makes it different from other books in the same genre? You'll only know if you ask yourself.

Step 6: Using characterization

If you still haven't come up with a specified theme, don't worry. This final step should lead you in the right direction, if not lead you to the end of the rainbow, where the answers you desire await.

From what I've read over the past few years, a good story is one with characters that have grown and developed from the first to late page of the book. They are the ones that carry the plot, and lead it to its final conclusion. So, why can't we take away a theme from the character's development? Their actions, what they say, what they see, what they feel, are all connected with the story. Understanding their emotions in relation to the plot will give you the final push you need to secure a main theme. For instance, if your theme is about impending death, your characters must have faced death on more than one occasion, and have involved themselves in such dangerous situations that death is waiting for them on their doorstep. It makes sense, right? Well, your story's theme should be evident in your character's actions as well. You can find your theme in the consequences your characters face, or their reactions to certain events. In the end, this is the message you want to convey to your readers, and what better than to do it with the help of the very perspectives your readers are reading your story through?


In brief, here are some steps you should take to find the final message you want to share with your readers. The broad sentence that will sum up the story without giving any spoilers. Let me know if you've come up with a theme for your story in the comments below! Here's mine for anyone wondering:

Control can dictate the lives of those wanting to live in a world they don't believe they belong in.

Dystopian-y right?

Anyways, I'll see you in next week's post, Scribblers. And for my Honeys that have come from Instagram, hey :) Glad to see you here. Until next time <3

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