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Finding the Heart of Your Story: A Guide to Theme Development

If your plot is your story's skeleton and your character's are it's life blood, then the theme is the beating heart.

Theme provides the central focus for your story and is the driving force that ties together all the narrative elements, conveying profound ideas, emotions, and messages to captivate your readers.


However theme can be challenging. In this article, we explain what is theme, why your story should (and probably already does) have a one and how you can develop it in your story.


Defining Theme


Theme = central message/ idea in your story


Theme represents the messages and ideas that emerge from a story. There is usually one overarching theme with a few sub themes. These can be broad such as love, friendship, power, identity, or the human condition or more niche such as female independence or sibling rivalry.


In a lot of the articles we read, they say that theme goes beyond the plot and characters, however at The Writer Community we disagree. Theme encompassing the plot and characters. Both are touched by the theme and help to further its meaning. For example, if your book is about love it will likely feature two characters who have very specific ideas on love (and will see those ideas challenged by the theme) as well as a plot that drives those characters together to fall in love.


However, when theme is done well, it is so much more than that crude example. It provides layers of meaning, allowing readers to connect with the story on a deeper level. It provides insights, provokes thought, and explores universal truths that resonate with our shared human experiences.


The Importance of Themes


Themes serve several crucial purposes in writing.

  • Themes add depth and resonance: Themes breathe life into a story, giving it substance and emotional weight. They provide a framework that enriches characters, conflicts, and plot lines.

  • Themes unify story elements: Themes act as the glue that holds various narrative elements together by ensuring that each part of your story (a character or scene) serves a purpose of the story.

  • Theme connect with the reader: Themes tap into universal human experiences, allowing readers to relate to the story on a personal level.


Finding your Theme


Reflect on your Story's Purpose

  • To discover the theme of your story, ask yourself, "what do I want my readers to take away from my story?" Identifying the intention behind your story will guide you towards finding your theme. Whether you want to inspire your reader to do better in their community, provoke thoughts around a particular topic dear to their heart, or even explore the complexities of relationships and love, understanding your story's purpose is crucial in theme development.

Analyze your Character Arcs

  • Characters play a pivotal role in theme development. Examine your main and side characters and look at the challenges they face, their wants and needs, and their growth throughout the story. Look for recurring motifs, conflicts, or transformative moments that resonate with broader themes. By understanding your characters' arcs, you can uncover the thematic threads woven within their experiences and the story.

Examine Plot and Conflict

  • The plot and conflict of your story can also provide insights into its theme. Identify the primary conflict and consider, 'how does it reflect larger issues I might want to explore' or 'what questions does it ask?'. By examining the plot's core conflict, you can unravel thematic layers you may not have even realised were there.

Symbolism and Imagery

  • By identifying recurring motifs, or visual elements in your story that have sybolic meaning, you can deliberately weave these symbols throughout your narrative, using them to reinforce your chosen theme.

But remember...

  • Try to create nuance in your themes to allow your readers to draw their own conclusions and interpretations in order to make it more personal.

  • A story can also have multiple themes working together to create layers of meaning, however be mindful of balancing and connecting these themes.


Writing Theme


Here are some tips to effectively use themes in your writing.

  • Before diving into your story, identify the concepts, emotions, or ideas you want to explore in that story. This will help you decide the theme before you start writing.

  • Writing your character arcs with your theme in mind. Show how your characters grapple with challenges, grow, and learn valuable lessons that align with your theme.

  • Incorporate symbols, motifs, or recurring images that reinforce your theme.

  • Craft meaningful conversations that touch upon your theme. Verbal exchanges, layered with underlying meaning, means that readers can engage with your story on multiple levels.


In conclusion, your theme is vital to your story. While finding your theme can seem really complicated, we hope this article has shown you it is not and that you can add deeper meaning to any story, no matter the genre. Comment below and tell us if there are any tips and tricks you use when finding and developing your theme.


About The Writer Community


The Writer Community is a supportive space for writers to connect, learn and grow. So far, we have helped writers grow their confidence, improve their craft and build their writing team with many of our community having now published books both independently and traditionally.


Become a member today for:

  • Access to an exclusive community of writers across the globe

  • Weekly writer discussions in our forums and discord channel

  • New resources every week to help you improve your writing craft and grow your confidence as a writer

  • Weekly writing sprints and Q&As with our community

  • Opportunities to share your work with other writers

  • Exclusive access to writing retreats and workshops (these will be open to members only)

To join, just follow this link.


We can't wait to welcome you to The Writer Community!

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