As an invisible force guiding every movement of creation, Theme might stand as the most important aspect of any artistic creation, at least of the ones that move beyond the initial and mostly blind exploratory impulse of creation and into the realms of metaphoric elaboration.
I’m not even joking here.
Think of theme as the symbolic argument between a posited truth and a lie, two opposing aspects of some idea that will play out in the characters arcs and throughout an external plot, which in turn will force characters growth.
You did it? Then guess what… you’re entering theme’s dominion.
Generally speaking, theme is an uniform idea or subject, explored via recurring patterns and expanded through comparisons and contrast. remember the symbolic argument stuff?
As it stands and in any story, ultimately, plot and characters are a visual representation of an underlying theme, both presenting variations on this subject. In a sense, theme is the story’s essence, boiled down into a single and concise statement.
You can use it as the guiding principle for your entire story.
So, how can you find the theme of a story? even your own, because if you were not thinking about it while writing, chances are a theme is sitting there, between your characters and events, waiting to be discovered by you.
Look for the truth at the heart of any prominent character change within the plot. Then, identify any underlying topics or recurring motifs repeated throughout your plot and characters decisions. But take special notice of the ending of your story, because this is where ultimately the theme is expressed or revealed as a truth discovered or accepted by the protagonist (often called a self-revelation).
This truth is often called the thematic point, once discovered, you can play it back against everything that happened in previously in the plot and characters development, ideally you will see it resonate in every scene, if not you should strive for it to happen.
Think about it this way, a story can be understood as a large scale metaphor about made up people going on made up adventures which create descriptive metaphors for real life.
Now, let’s talk a bit about the differences between using and finding a theme for your story.
If we start a story from a theme, we can actually mold the plot and characters into a visual and external metaphor for an invisible theme. But if we don’t, let’s say we started with character or plot, the idea is not to construct a metaphor, rather discover one inside our story. In this case, we should look within the existing/evolving plot to identify the emerging theme.
Its almost impossible not to find a recurring and inherent theme inside the plot of a story, yet it also emerges from the characters. Think a little about it… what do they have in common? You can look at individual scenes, story events... what patterns are emerging? Can you see an overall shape?
In summary; You can’t have a proper story without people (characters) doing stuff (plot) – which together, inevitably comment upon reality (theme).
Next time we’ll dive deeper into this amazing element of story!