Want to amp up your ideas and create real cohesion in your work? Themes can help you do just that.
Today, we're taming the beast known as thematic statements. We'll discover why they are so transformative and two simple tricks you can use to incorporate them into your story – don't worry, it's really not as scary as it sounds.
What is a Theme / Thematic Statement?
A thematic statement is a sentence or two that summarises the main idea explored in a story. A theme is the main message of your writing.
Either can be used interchangeably, but if you have a particularly complex project on your hands, it can be helpful to have a short sentence that helps you summarise the ideas, concepts or meaningful truth examined in your writing.
Alternatively, you may prefer to have a list of all the themes in your project. It's common for traditional length novels or films to explore more than one. However, there is usually one overarching theme dissected in detail, primarily through the protagonist's inner journey.
Some great examples include:
"Beauty is found within", Beauty and the Beast – think about the use of mirrors, and Gaston and the Beast as opposites of expected ideals around the monstrous and beautiful.
"Rebellion and authoritarianism", The Hunger Games – plenty of references to conformity and control in this story, and through Katniss's internal journey in the trilogy, we develop towards a full-on revolution.
"Illusion and the destructiveness of obsession", The Prestige – both the book and film are full of deception in their visual style. We're in a world of magicians, repetition and cycles through our main characters, Angier and Borden.
"Find your light", Tangled – it's impossible to miss this theme, her hair is literally the sun, there's a sun symbol for the kingdom, a song called "I see the light", like, come on. But it makes the film feel incredibly cohesive.
"Manipulation and misogyny", Gone Girl – see the use of journals, different accounts from his and her perspective, and playing with expectations around gender roles and attitudes.
Why Are Themes so Powerful in Stories?
Themes are a great way to add cohesion to your story. They help to tie all the threads of your ideas together and you can use symbols and motifs to further express these ideas.
Themes also give your writing meaning.
Most importantly, themes invite your readers or audience to actively participate in the exploration of your ideas, analysing how your characters navigate the obstacles presented by the theme's issues and judge if they would do the same. This helps to further connect your audience to your story by asking them to consider similar situations in their own life – all of which creates meaning and a lasting impact on your reader. Powerful stuff.
2 Simple Tricks to Develop Your Theme
Funnelling a big idea into something tangible in your story sounds tough, right? How do you make your 65,000 words or 90-minute script fit into a few words? Let's find out.
What's Your Why?
I know the whole find your why thing is an exhausted statement, but here it rings true. One of the easiest ways to figure out your themes is to ask yourself why you're writing this story. What topics, concepts, characters, or pathways do you want to explore? Why is this important to you? What impact do you want your story to have? And why might it be relevant to your reader / audience?
Your Protagonist's Lesson
Every great story takes the protagonist on a transformative internal journey. This usually includes some kind of lesson they have to learn, in order to face the final turn in the climax. If you already know what skills, idea or lesson your protagonist is going to learn on their journey, there's a high chance that's your theme. It's the key idea you want to explore in your story, so see if you can flesh it out in other characters, objects or places too. Remember, the message you teach your protagonist is also what you teach your reader.
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