Writing Themes

Finding a theme for your work is a critical part of the writing process.

Understanding the different writing themes available to you will make it easier to create a piece that successfully captivates your audience.

Plot vs. Theme

Many people who are new to the writing process confuse plot and theme. While plot is the sequence of events that happen in a poem, short story, or novel, the theme is the underlying thread that connects all of these things. A theme is what gives a particular work its depth, texture, and meaning.

To help yourself remember the difference between plot and theme, keep in mind this quote from author Colin Thiele; "A plot is what the book is about. The theme is what the book is really about."

Ways to Determine Writing Themes

Writing themes can be grouped into two different categories: simple themes and implied truth themes. Both types are closely related, however.

Simple Themes

Simple themes are general concepts that have continued to fascinate people throughout the ages. The most common examples of simple writing themes are:

  • Love: Obviously, love is one of the most popular themes in literature. From Romeo and Juliet to today's incredibly popular Twilight series, people can't get enough romance in their lives.
  • Friendship: Stories about friendship can feature children, adults, or even friendships between people and their pets. A story can describe how friends meet or tell about a particularly important time in the history of long friendship.
  • Death: It may seem a bit morbid, but many people are fascinated with stories relating to what happens at the end of life. This may include battling a serious illness such as cancer or a story about how people move on with their lives after the death of a loved one.
  • Sacrifice: Life is full of sacrifices, both big and small. Examples of sacrifice in writing might include a story about how a mother gives up her high profile career to care for her handicapped child or a tale about a man who struggles in a job he hates in order to provide a better life for his wife and child.

Other examples of simple themes for creative writing include jealousy, anger, courage, creativity, loneliness, and decadence.

Implied Truth Themes

An implied truth theme can best be described as the moral of the story. Examples of implied truth themes include:

  • Crime doesn't pay.
  • Make the best of the hand you've been dealt.
  • To have a friend, you must be a friend.
  • Family is sacred.
  • Money can't buy happiness.
  • Life is a series of ups and downs.
  • Hard work is its own reward.
  • You can't predict the future.

If you're interested in using implied truth themes in your work, pick up a book of famous quotations from your local library. Skim through the book and take note of which quotes appeal to you. Then, try to construct a narrative that illustrates the point of your favorite quote.

Expressing Themes in Writing

There are many different ways to express themes in writing. Techniques writers often use in their work include:

  • Personification
  • Imagery
  • Tone of voice
  • Metaphor
  • Symbols
  • Simile

Keep in mind that subtlety is best, however. You don't want to be so obvious in your attempt to label your theme that you end up inadvertently insulting your reader's intelligence. A theme should never be explicitly stated; let the reader draw his own conclusions.

Learning how to effectively express themes in writing is an ongoing process. If you're not sure your theme is being conveyed properly, ask two or three trusted friends, family members, or fellow writers to review your work and offer their opinions about what theme you're conveying.

Repetition of Themes

If you've been writing for quite some time, you may notice that a lot of your work uses the same themes. Many people find themselves attracted to the same general theme when they write. This isn't necessarily a problem, however. As long as your plots continue to vary, feel free to explore whatever theme you're most passionate about.

Writing Themes