Themes for Fiction Ideas

You have written your first novel, and when asked what it’s about, you might reel off a précis of the plot. But if asked what the story is really about, the writer might be stumped for words. What this question is really trying to establish is the theme of the novel. This is different to the plot. One without the other will leave the story incomplete. So what does the theme of a story mean?

Difference between Plot and Theme

The theme of a novel is really an underlying message for the reader. Some writers get confused between plot and theme. A story without a theme is like a house built on sand. Lots of things happen, but none of it really matters and the story falls down, as there is no theme to hold the story together. Conversely, a story without a plot just becomes a mess of random occurrences without logic. A great novel has to have both great plot and great theme to work.

Definition of Fiction Theme

In L Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz (1900), Dorothy finds herself in Munchkinland with companions, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion after being carried up by a tornado. Dorothy rouses the witch’s wrath after killing her sister. In revenge, the witch tries to stop Dorothy from getting home, but the wizard promises he will send her home if she obtains the witch’s broomstick. Only when Dorothy and her friends are successful in their quest, do they discover that the wizard is in fact a charlatan and never possessed the powers to send her home.

This is the plot to the story. A lot happens, not least Dorothy’s kidnap by the witch and her experiences of the Emerald City. But the underlying theme is centred upon how your background defines who you are and where you came from; it is about the importance of home and lineage. If Baum was asked ‘what is the underlying message of your story?' The answer might come back: ‘Never forget where you come from, or you will lose yourself.’

Ideas for Story Themes

This theme of a stranger in a strange land is repeated in countless novels. But what other examples of there of great themes for stories? Here is a list of story themes that might inspire the writer.

  • We must watch out for the magpies in us that pursues the shiny and eye-catching. It is the things we take for granted that are often more valuable.
  • We may distance ourselves geographically from our background, but we cannot run away from who we are.
  • Be true to yourself and you will earn the respect of friends as well as enemies.
  • Pursue your dream in the face of ridicule and danger and you could inspire others.
  • Money might buy possessions and power, but will not buy happiness or love.
  • Popularity of an object or ideal does not make it good or right.
  • The definition of home is not a building or a place, but a group of people that are closest to us.

Great Theme Ideas for Stories

A great plot is nothing without a great theme. What is the point of a racy story designed to keep the reader captivated if there is no underlying message? The story becomes a blur of events and feels empty. At the end, none if it really matters and the reader is left not caring about the characters.

What Theme to Use in Novels

The theme may not be clear at the start of a writing project. It might become clearer as the story progresses. Often the theme will gravitate over an issue the author cares about or has personal experience of. The theme must never be too obvious to the reader until the story is well underway. It must creep in naturally and unobtrusively. Allow the message to take a backseat, or the reader could feel preached at. Not every theme has to be in the form of a moral, but an exploration of this moral. Whether the hero does the right thing or not is immaterial. Keep the theme clear in the mind throughout the writing process. A confused theme will lead to a confused story. Often, the simplest themes are best.

Which Theme to Use for my Novel

Some themes have been extensively explored in countless novels. This does not mean it should be avoided if something new could be said about it. The way it is put forward is what matters. A familiar theme expressed via a unique plot will inject freshness to an old theme. A unique conveyance of an old theme can be seen in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003), which conveys the theme via an unusual pursuit in a distant country. But the story is not really about kite running, it is about one friend’s desertion of another in his time of need and ultimately of finding redemption.

Creative Writing Theme Ideas

A typical novel exists on two levels: the surface plot, and the underlying theme. One without the other will leave the novel feeling incomplete. The story will either fall down, or appear to comprise random events without meaning. A great plot is nothing without some sort of underlying message to the story. The story theme will not always be clear to the reader (or indeed the author at the start) but should be apparent by the end of the story.
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