Creative Exercise #9


Good fiction is comprised of many parts: plot, characters, setting, scenes, and dialogue. But we rarely talk about theme, even though it’s critical to good storytelling.

There’s no clear and easy way to define theme. It has been called the worldview, philosophy, message, moral, and lesson within a story. However, these labels, taken alone or together, don’t quite explain theme in fiction.

We can think of a theme as an underlying principle or concept. It’s usually universal in nature. Some common themes include redemption, sacrifice, betrayal, loyalty, greed, justice, oppression, revenge, and love.

Themes can be philosophical and they can ask questions or pit two ideas against each other: science vs. faith, good vs. evil, why are we here, and what happens when we die?

If you and I both watch the film The Matrix, we might identify different themes in the film. I might identify social class as a theme and you might say that freedom is a theme. In this case, we’d both be right. For this exercise, you will choose one of your favorite stories and identify its themes.

  1. Choose a favorite book, movie, or television show (for a TV show, you should just choose one episode). Make a list of all the themes you can identify in the story. Try to find 5-10 themes. Go over your list a few times to make sure you’re identifying themes (big, sweeping concepts) rather than conflicts or plot twists.
  2. Next, determine one key theme that is woven through the entire story. You might find there are two or three major themes. List them all but choose just one to explore in the next step.
  3. Now, explain how the storyteller presented this theme through plot, character, and scenes. Make a list of events and situations from the story that embody the theme.
  4. Write a 500 word sketch that establishes theme through either plot, character, an object or a particular scene.

Be sure to also comment on a classmate's post for full credit.

23 thoughts on “Creative Exercise #9

  1. Tometria Jackson

    One of my favorite books of all time is ‘Two Old Women’ by Velma Wallace. It’s a story that has been a part of her Athabaskan heritage and was passed down from generation to generation. The prevailing theme of Two Old Women is overcoming adversity. The story takes place several centuries ago in the upper Yukon River in Alaska during a hard winter when food was scarce.

    The People (as they call themselves) were following the migratory route of the life-sustaining caribou herds that roamed the arctic, and had little to no success. Things were in dire straits when the chief makes a decision; for the sake of the many, the two old women would be left behind when they broke camp. One of the women, Ch’idzigyaak has a daughter and a grandson in the group, and when the pronouncement of her fate is proclaimed, they say nothing in her defense. Ch’idzigyaak feels hurt and betrayed by her loved ones and over time, those feelings harden into bitterness and anger. The other woman, Sa’, has no one to speak up for her.

    The two women watch as the group leaves, and they sit in silence as they take in the enormity of what has just happened to them. Sa’ rouses herself and tries to encourage her companion without success, and then she ends her little speech by saying, “…if we are going to die my friend, let us die trying, not sitting.” That lights a spark within Ch’idzigyaak, and both women remember the survival skills they have lived by. They use that knowledge to not only survive, but thrive.

    Their first challenge is to do what The People had failed to do; find food. They must battle the elements, their ageing bodies, and their fears. The women spend the first day making snares in the hopes of trapping a rabbit, and they catch two the first night. With this encouragement, the women begin to make preparations to travel to the distant fish camp where they feel they will be safe from discovery.

    Using the little hatchet hidden for them by Ch’idzigyaak’s grandson, the women make snowshoes for their long trek. Every morning, they must overcome stiff, achy joints and the seemingly endless miles that stretch out ahead of them. The women slowly and steadily make progress, and they gain strength as they push themselves daily.

    Above everything, the women fear discovery by The People, and so when they arrive at the fish camp, they decide to set up a little ways away from the main camp. They set up a snug shelter, and spend the hardest part of the winter stockpiling food and sewing warm clothing from the fur. The women are faring better than The People, who are starving several miles away.

    The greatest challenge comes when the women are reunited with The People. It takes some time, but the women decide to forgive the wrong that was done to them. They share their bounty to clothe and feed their dying compatriots, and trust is eventually restored.

    1. Lilia Lundquist

      I also love that book! I remember reading it in high school and feeling a sense of empowerment through these older ladies who had beat the odds. There is so much character growth from beginning to end from the struggle of survival, this is a great example of human vs nature.

      1. Brenden Couch

        I read that as well and it was an awesome story of overcoming a tragedy. I rather enjoyed it. Its writing was simple and easy to follow and yet it presented a great heavy story.

  2. Lilia Lundquist

    When reaching for a book that I plan to read for pleasure I find that I tend to leer towards stories that focus on human vs nature, or stories that are centered around accepting or coping with death. Recently I just read Molloy, by Samuel Beckett. The story is centered around one man who is an old and decrypted vagrant. In the beginning he starts with the end. Molloy is bedridden and is barely able to understand the world around him. He can’t remember people, except his mother and two of his previous lovers. He doesn’t know his purpose but knows that he will soon be dead so this is irrelevant. He then dives into his story which is all about his life of humiliation and resentment. From early on Molloy never wanted to live, he mentions how he has carried an intense anger for his mother his whole life for not killing him before he was born. At the same time his mother is one of the most influential people in his mind. He sees her face on other women and reminisces on her death. The progression of the novel leads you ultimately to Molloy’s death (however that is told in the span of a trilogy, which I have yet to finish) I can understand that first Molloy ignores the anticipation of the end. He is a cripple, but still manages to spend most of his days riding an old bicycle around town. The few characters that are mentioned in the novel play a role in his acceptance for his demise. He first meets a woman who’s life is, in Molloy’s eyes, so pitiful that he wonders what she looks for in living. He lives with her for a brief period and begins to see less and less meaning in everything around him. This sort of lackadaisical mindset allows for him to appreciate life’s little details. He spends hours in her garden just to smell the air. Another small quirk that takes his mind off death is a habit he develops of sucking on small rocks for hours. There is legitimately a point in the novel where for almost ten pages this man is describing holding rocks in his mouth, I was ready to rip my hair out not even half way through. The novel was originally written in French, so the language can be difficult to follow along with, but over time the message comes together like pieces of a puzzle. Molloy illustrates a life that is less than desirable but still is weary of an impending end. As a reader this is peculiar given that you would assume most would look forward to an end of pain. Molloy is a man of few words, and when he does speak they are mainly inaudible, however his mind is a river of knowledge. He thinks and describes memories and images beautifully. I came to the understanding that in his journey to death he learns acceptance through reliving every prominent memory he can muster. He does not discriminate against dark memories, instead includes both positive and negative in the recall of his life. Molloy gives light to a theme that intensely follows the human experience.

    1. Benjamin Hayward

      Not the kind of book I would enjoy, as I am an optimistic person. I read mostly sci-fi, where they have man vs man situations. Reading 10 pages about sucking on rocks sounds like something Steven King would do. The man can go on and on about dinner plates.

  3. Benjamin Hayward

    1. Breaking Bad Themes- Loyalty, desperation, hope, family, death.
    2. Death is everywhere.
    3. Walter White, main star, is dying of cancer. He want to provide for his family, so he cooks meth. Jessie Pinkman- co-character, can’t kill anyone even though he wants revenge, so Walter does the deed. The bossman kills his thug for being unreliable. The hitman kills 3 people for the bossman, they were in the way.
    4. Breaking Bad Season 3 Episode 13, the season finale. Walter White wants to provide for his family when he dies, which is from cancer. He is in remission, but it is only a matter of time. He meets with the bossman, Gus, and the hit man, who threatens to kill Walter if he doesn’t attend the meeting. While attending the meeting, Gus asks about Walter medical condition, regarding weather he is dying, then wanted to know what he is doing. Walter answers he was protecting his partner who was going to die, by killing 2 gangsters, in revenge for killing an 11 year old kid. Gus gets upset when Walter accuses him of giving the order to kill the kid. Walter even taunts Gus to kill him.

    There is symbolism of death everywhere, not just of people being killed. The hitman uses balloons to hit the powerlines, “killing” the lights of a business. A business owner was being held hostage, so the hitman went to work. He kills 2 in the entrance, one in the hall, another using a distraction, and uses the hostage as guidance to kill the final bad guy, who were part of a drug cartel, that kills people as their specialty.

    This plot continues to the end where the assistant Gail gets killed by Jessie to make sure they are valuable to Gus alive, than dead, for Gus was wanting to kill them, to cut loose ends. Breaking Bad has a deathly overtone throughout the episode and series. Nearly almost every episode has bodies hitting the floor, to miming killing of something.

    1. Kelsey

      Breaking Bad is such a winner of a show because there are so many different themes that run throughout the show, and they are always fascinating and hold your attention! I like that you chose death, because while some people view death as only sad, there are a lot of different feelings you can evoke with this theme and ideas you can run with.

    2. Courtney Kisner

      I love Breaking Bad so much. I really liked the episode where Gail dies, not just for the drama but also because it opens up a whole new window of opportunities for the characters in the next season. We know that law enforcement is going to wonder why he was killed, if he was the head of the meth business or just the cook. The audience is left in anticipation with this theme of death. It was also the death of a time for Walter, where he knew now that Gus wasn’t going to kill him anytime soon, because he needs him as his cook. Good insight!

  4. Kelsey

    1. Friends- loyalty, forgiveness, friendship, family, generosity. I chose “The Last One” which is the last episode of the series.
    2. It’s a little cliche because it’s in the name, but friendship is the biggest blanket theme throughout this show.
    3. The authors present this theme throughout the characters always doing whatever is needed to help the other characters. They are dedicated to each other, and even through all the changes that life can bring you in ten years, they remain loyal to one another and willing to be there for whatever is needed. The theme is shown in the setting by usually always having the show in the same settings such as Central Perk, Monica and Chandler’s apartment, or Joey’s apartment.
    4. In The Last One, the theme friendship is once again displayed through the characters of Joey and Chandler. Early on in the series, Joey and Chandler get a pet duck and chick that they keep in their apartment. In The Last One, Chandler and Monica are moving out of their apartment and into a house outside of the city. Joey has gotten them a duck and a chick as housewarming gifts, but they get stuck inside the Foosball table, which is another iconic symbol of Joey and Chandler’s friendship. They decide that the only way to save the chick and duck is to break apart the Foosball table, which symbolizes the friendship as they knew it coming to an end. They break the table and get the chick and duck out, but decide to let them live at Joey’s apartment instead of taking them to Chandler and Monica’s new house. This symbolizes that even though their “old” friendship is ending because of the changes life brings, they will always be friends and will be able to enter this new chapter of life and maintain their bond in different ways.

    1. Tometria Jackson

      I always thought that Friends was a silly, superficial show about a group of narcissists, and so I never invested any time into getting to know the characters. Your insightful description of the last episode shows me that I was too quick to judge the show, and that there was depth and beauty beneath the surface.

    2. Angela Rodriguez

      I have watched Friends a million times and I love that you chose the last episode because it is so symbolic to the entire series. I agree that the number one theme throughout the whole show is Friendship. In every episode you see the friends facing challenging situation, and they turn to one another to solve the issue or to laugh about the embarrassment they are. Great Job!

    3. nmfleming

      I love Friends so much. I’ve watched this show a couple of times and I just love how much symbolism is in this show.

  5. Courtney Kisner

    1) One of my favorite shows is Fargo. Some themes from the third season include: inferiority complexes, sibling rivalry, relationship conflict, fraud, black mailing, an eating disorder, pride.
    2) The two key themes were the complicated sibling rivalry that manifested in younger years, and fear.
    3) Some events that reinforced the theme of sibling rivalry was when Emmett and Raymond got into a heated argument that resulted in the accidental death (manslaughter) of Raymond. A scene that instilled the theme of fear was when VM Varga manipulated Emmett into signing Varga as a partner to the firm.

    4) She looked down at her hands and started crying. How did I get here? She asks herself that question every day. Upon admittance, she felt that every laugh, every little whisper she heard, was directed at her. They were talking about her. She would go lay down on the hospital-like bed and wait for the meds to put her to sleep. In the morning the nurse would try to get her up, if she didn’t want to go to the cafeteria with the others, a Styrofoam tray would be brought back with generic food and decaf coffee on the side.

    The lack of freedom she had on the inside caused her to get bored to the point where she would just wait for the next meal. Life was watered down and simplified. There were no overwhelming exams to cram for, no relationships to cry over, and no bills or payments to anticipate. Life was within these four walls. Sometimes they would get to go to art therapy where they would color or draw a scene. She felt like a child.

    One day, they allowed Betty to have her phone to look up a number to call from the hospital phone. She quickly pulled up her texts to see if Ryan had texted her back. But she didn’t have enough time, it was like her fingers couldn’t move quickly enough. Soon the nurse caught on to what she was doing and took the device away. What if he tries to get in touch with me? She asked him as the lump in her throat made it hard to swallow.

    “Just worry about yourself,” he said as his gloved hands zipped my belongings back up in the plastic bag.

    And that’s what she did. She bided her time and got to know a few other patients. The weight of just having to worry about herself gave Betty some clarity. It didn’t fix everything or work miracles, but it validated the fact that she was her most important focus at the time.

  6. Delaney E Reece

    Lord of the Rings
    Team work
    Good vs evil
    Free will

    The most important theme I think I the prevalence of friendship and how the teamwork relates to the higher goal.
    The small interactions in times of stress and action solidify its importance because there is time taken away from the “more important” events and given to a moment between two characters. In addition the whole ending would not have been possible without a focus on friendship, and helping others achieve their own goals.
    In this way I see that there is a major underlying theme that is present thought the whole story where there are side plots that pull in other themes. These side plots are where the love stories are and how love plays into the themes overall. In most stories I think this major theme is the same, it is the basic hero’s journey to achieve some larger goal. This means that all other themes are additional, and the reacourance of things like good vs evil or light vs dark play into this. In the case of Lord of the Rings there are multiple journeys going on at the same time, and in each one there are moments where other thematic devices can be implemented based on the difference setting and relationships the characters have.
    Each character in this way acts as a means to add or represent a specific theme based on that person. Without the different facets of a character there is no where for a theme to grow around the events. The people that live in a story are the best way to hand a theme because they are the reality of people that can be manipulated to create the theme how the author wants it to display.

    1. Shana Waring

      I have yet to be able to sit through an entire Lord of the Rings movie although this description makes it sounds a bit more appealing. It’s quite amazing when themes are all broken down how many different things can be happening at the same time in the same movie.

  7. Angela Rodriguez

    1. One of my favorite shows of all time is “Friends.” Every night before bed I put friends on and it will instantly relax me and put me to sleep. Last night, I was on the episode, “The One Where No One is Ready.” Some themes from this episode were: Being late, Relationship problems, Respecting time, Friendship fallouts, and friendship.
    2. Main theme: Respecting Time

    – Chandler and Joey fight over a claimed seat rather than getting ready.
    – Monica obsesses over a voicemail from an ex-boyfriend, slowing her down as she gets ready.
    – Rachel can’t decide what to wear to the benefit, leaving her with no time.
    – Phoebe spills humus on her dress and must find something new to wear.
    – Rachel decides to not go to the benefit
    – Ross yells at his friends about their lack of respect for the time limit he is on.
    – The friends get ready and leave to the benefit.
    4. This episode displayed this theme throughout the entire episode, but my favorite character that displayed the theme of the episode was Ross. Throughout the episode, Ross urged that his friends need to respect his time, yet Ross does not respect their time as they go through the process of getting ready for the benefit. For example, in this episode, Ross struggles the most with Rachel being indecisive of what she would wear. Ross claims that he only cares about Rachel coming to the event, and this is likely why he was so pressed about her being on time. After irritating Rachel about going to the event, she decides not to go and Ross has a speech about how all of his friends need to respect his time.

    1. Jess Young

      I love Friends, thanks for your insight into the story. It’s cool that so many people chose the themes that stand out from this show.

  8. Jess Young

    One of my favorite shows is Doctor Who, which is one of the longest running series in the history of television. The modern adaptation has a different running theme throughout each of the seasons, but consistently one theme I have noticed across every genre is the idea that every human life is worth something — that it is valuable, important, and has an impact on everything in the universe.
    Each episode of Doctor Who puts the Doctor and his companion in a sci-fi/fantasy scenario in which something is amiss either on Earth or anywhere in time and space. Through the Doctor’s clever wit and quick thinking he always saves the day with the help of his trusty compatriot(s). However, as you delve deeper into the story a message is consistently broadcasted: you are special, you matter, and you can change the world around you.
    The episode which I have chosen to sketch today is “Blink” which introduced a species of villains which has taken the Science Fiction world by storm. Blink follows a character who is unrelated to the typical Doctor Who story and focuses on a young woman who enters a creepy old home for the sake of some photos and instead finds a message addressed to her amongst some statues of angels. The character — Sally Sparrow — then turns to leave and finds a young man at the front door of the home with a letter addressed to her from her best friend. As the story continues, Sally learns that she is the target of those same angel statues which she observed in the house who have the ability to send a person back in time to die before they are even born. Throughout the course of the story, Sally is able to put events into motion that would prevent her from ever being harmed and thus altering the course of the world around her.
    The theme throughout this story is the same: one person can change the world and alter the course of history. Not only can one person change what will happen in the future, every person is writing the story of the days to come. No matter how insignificant a decision may seem, it changes your life and sends ripples into the future.

  9. nmfleming

    My all-time favorite book is “Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. This was the one and only book I read before watching the movie and I was very happy with how similar the movie was to the book. It brought me a lot of joy that these two were the same. The biggest theme in this book is Life and Death. The whole book is about this girl who has lung cancer who falls in love with a boy who has been cancer free for a couple of years. Both characters must deal with life and death. There are small themes that appear throughout this book like Family, if there wasn’t this common theme of Life and Death then this closeness for family won’t be there in the book. Because Hazel, the main character, has cancer she talks a lot about what it’s like to be so close to death. Gus, the boy who had been cancer free for a couple of years, because he had, had several years without cancer that time with cancer got him thinking about how he (all of us) spend time on Earth. That at any moment our time could end and we need to live our days to the fullest.

  10. Shana Waring

    I’ve recently stumbled upon a show “Call the Midwife” on Netflix. There are reoccurring themes of compassion, living life by someone else’s rules, love of family, hardship, and the ever-changing world. I believe the entire series really concerns the importance of compassion for humanity. The area of England the Midwives serve during the 1950’s and 1960’s is poverty ridden. Often times mothers are choosing to deliver their fourth, fifth, or sixth child in a home without running water or which have a communal bathroom. Older patients are plagues with wounds which need to have their dressings changes regularly and their poverty and immobility cause horrific living situations. Even when the midwives can barely stand the smell, they not only do their job but really show understanding and finding importance in everything they do in the town.

    The most recent episode I watched included a change in the head sister at Nonnatus House. She was cold and very strict in changing rules while sticking to a schedule with no room for change. The change of leadership came very unexpectedly and didn’t offer time for the midwives to be able to handle the number of changes both physically and emotionally. As the episode progresses, the midwives are forced to leave patients with subpar checkups in order to meet their timelines and withhold the prepared schedule. Each interaction can show a break in trust between patients and midwives.

    In the end, a grave situation occurs which would have been avoided had there been adequate time to perform checkups. A midwife has to step outside of her normal quiet demeanor to remind the importance of compassion for one another and each patient. Changes within the Nonnatus House occur and bring everything back into a rhythm.

  11. Draven

    1. The Westing game has a few different themes throughout the story. Things aren’t always how they seem, teamwork is key to success, greed gets people nowhere, plan for the future and you forget what’s in front of you, some answers are hidden in plain sight.
    2. Greed gets people nowhere is the recurring theme in this story. Even though it counts as a mystery, this is the basic theme of the entire book.
    3. The story, being a murder mystery, makes it surprisingly easy to understand that the main theme is about greed. All of the characters want the prize for themselves, and as such they can’t understand that they need to work together to achieve their goal. One of the characters is the parent of two of the other contestants, and believes that they would willing hand over their clues to her. Another character ate his clues so that the other players would not get their hands on them.
    4. The story begins with a murder. Several characters that were related to the dead man, either family or work, were called to the funeral. After the funeral the man’s lawyer told the participants that the will would be given to the first person to find the murderer. The lawyer then proceeded to hand out envelopes to each of the contestants. These envelopes held a set of clues that all combined lead to the murderer. Over the story the characters’ refuse to hand over their clues and the mystery takes forever being solved. Thus the characters are greedy and they take forever to get what they want

  12. Brenden Couch

    Themes of Avatar the Last Airbender (The TV show not the worst screen adaptation in the history of live action movies, along with Eragon)
    Episode: The Tales of Ba Sing Sei Season 2 Episode 15.

    For those who are not familiar with this animated masterpeice, it is an amazing show that shows a deft ability to bring awareness to any and all serious topics throughout life. It has great characters, great stories, and an amazing ability to get down to brass tax without being overly heavy or overly jovial, always just right. I encourage a binge of this show. It was made for kids but its plot can only really be enjoyed with age as it is fit for all ages in a way no other show I have ever seen. this is a link to this particular episode which cannot be fully appreciated without having watched the series but stand alone it is still very very good.

    Theme 1: Bullying (Presented by the first short story, really deals with judging other people.)
    Theme 2: Loss of Loved Ones ( An older man deals with the anniversary of the death of his son and coming to grips with having not been able to help his son overcome and live. He spends this day helping all he comes into contact with in memory of his son. He even provides younglings with good advice about honesty as well in light humorous moment.This one is the best in my opinion, the strongest and also in honor of a great actor named Mako, who in a later series has a character named after him in The Legend of Korra. )
    Theme 3: Poor Funding, (Also just as funny as it needs to be, keeps with an ongoing gag about a cabbage merchant whose cabbages always get eaten or destroyed in every city he moves to.)

    Theme 4: Love ( Sokka ends up in a poetry school, trying to impress the pretty lasses and makes a humorous mistake after winning a poetry smackdown).
    Theme 5: Dating (Zuko, a complicated young man going by alias Lee meets a girl whilst going through some radical changes in his life.)
    Theme 6: Friendship/ Animal Cruelty (Momo misses Appa who is kidnapped and thinks he sees him everywhere, along the way he makes some friends freeing some captured creatures.)

    The raw emotion in the episode where the Aangs best friend (Sky Bison, like Totorro is captured is a truly amazing performance enhanced by animation.)

    Now moving towards the final objective I have to admit the directions aren’t clear whether this sketch is supposed to reflect an episode of a show or the movie we chose or some original material. I am choosing a small section of original material since I cannot hope to deal with or emulate any brilliant screen or script writing.

    A man sits on a bus, waiting for his stop. When he gets up, another person cuts in front of him, the other person becomes irate despite where the fault lies. However, the original person remained calm and treated the other with a smile and immediately the tension dissipated and the hostility was reduced by the calm demeanor and it was peaceful once more. The theme here would be that remaining calm can divert terrible confrontations. I am sorry I could not elaborate, I am running behind trying to catch up, thanks for reading.

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