Theme is a tricky one for me. For the longest time I’ve thought of theme is something “post-hoc” a topic that English teachers and academics like to toy with when they analyze a work, rather than an intention technique by the author. After all story is king and should themes emerge that just shows the brilliance of the author right? No need to stress about theme whilst writing.
Well in with more rigorous consideration I’ve started to change my mind. Considering theme can make the difference between an aimless plot and a coherent narrative, the quantitative gap between a shallow vacuous book and a piece with something to say.
But I’m not necessarily talking about high brow essays and thematic analysis, I’m more interested in whether thinking about theme helps a writer with their works. Writing with theme in mind sounds a little arduous, however what I think helps is knowing the message or messages of your work and can guide your creative process, supporting you in figuring out ‘what’s next’ or what tensions and resolutions should be put in place. Typically in writing there are multiple ways to take a story and a theme can guide this process.
I don’t think that writers need to set their theme in concrete from whoa to go in their WIP, nor do I think stories need to be anchored to one theme. But having some idea of what the story is “about” is a great balm to uncertainty.
It’s probably a whole other post to talk about what sorts of themes are suitable/ideal for a modern work, the ultimate idea though is that your story tells of or explores some aspect of human nature of existence. That sounds pretty poncy, however theme can range from basic to eccentric, the simplest of action flicks tells us about overcoming adversity while Game of Thrones is almost like a political ethics course over several books.
What are your thoughts on theme, is it something you think about or intentionally develop?