How to Build a Stronger Story Using Theme

An old-fashioned typewriter.

A book should be about more than plot and characters.

Every writer wants our stories to be about something important to us and how we view the world.

A message the reader walks away with that imparts a deeper meaning to how they view their own lives.

We hope it’ll change their lives in some small way. That our stories have made a difference.

And the interesting thing is, every reader takes away something different. But it makes our stories all the richer for it.

So, what is theme and how do we develop it?

Theme holds the story together

Theme represents the bigger picture you want to present to your readers.

It’s a concept you want to explore beneath the layers of plot and characters. This will be the focus of your book (or series).

In terms of genre: fantasy is the exploration of the unknown, romance is about love, science fiction explores what might be possible, and so forth.

To determine our theme, we must look deeper at these concepts and decide what it is we want to explore within them.

For example: Since we want to explore the unknown in fantasy, we might want to focus on all the fantastical creatures that could be possible, or everything magic could do to make our lives simpler.

You can explore multiple themes

Theme doesn’t have to revolve around genre alone.

You can explore concepts of human existence, personality, interactions, the interconnection of the species, whatever you want.

You can have a theme for your book and each character within it.

You can even use your settings to tell a story.

Just make sure they all tie into your core concept and work together to form one solid idea.

Use it to build your story one piece at a time

Theme can be the structure that determines your characters, setting, and plot.

It can connect your scenes to form a larger picture. It can help you decide what details to use in your descriptions. It can also form your characters’ inner thoughts.

It can even be used in revision to determine what belongs and what needs to be cut.

Let your theme guide you as you choose each of these pieces and you’ll make a deeper, stronger story.

How do you use theme in your stories?



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Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.

She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.

She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.

From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.

She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.

When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.

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