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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.