I did a whole series on prepping a novel, but there are some things we didn’t really talk about. Like theme. So let’s go a little deeper into what’s behind a story.

Plot is what happens, theme is why it happens. Plot is the series of events, theme is the point. I don’t think it’s true that every story needs a theme, but I think every story that makes a lasting impression has a theme. A story doesn’t stick unless it resonates with the reader in some way, and, to do that, it needs to have a point.

Sometimes a story has one theme, sometimes it has a few. But, there’s usually one main theme that the story as a whole covers. Certain events or character arcs can provide smaller, sub themes. There’s really no limit, as long as everything fits together somehow into a cohesive story, you can have a whole bunch of themes. Or just the one. Or none, it’s your story.

Something I always hated when I was in school, was being in English class and being told how to interpret a story, especially if it meant the way I interpreted the story was wrong. As if the person who made the curriculum has any authority on the true theme and all symbolism of every story. Maybe the author did have a particular theme in mind that they wanted the reader to get, and maybe the creator of the English curriculum got it right, that doesn’t mean that’s what I have to take away from reading that story.

Readers should be free to interpret a story however they like. And writers are free to make their intended theme as vague as they like, or to state it outright. The latter is a personal pet peeve of mine, especially if the story gets the theme across pretty clearly, but, to each their own.

Do you think about theme when you’re writing or reading?