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  • Writer's pictureNikki Lee Taylor

Hey, what's the big idea? Why you should decide on a theme before you start to write...

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Creating an intriguing plot is key to writing a riveting story, but without a theme your book will fail to emotionally engage readers. Here's why...

Often people make the mistake of thinking story is all about plot - a journey that takes the main characters them from where they are - physically or emotionally - when the story begins, to where they inevitably end up.

In many ways they are right, because plot drives your story and takes the characters through trials, tribulations, twists, and turns, many of which your reader will never have experienced in their own lives. And that's part of the fun of reading, right? The adventure.

But if your book doesn't also have a theme people can relate to, they will never really feel what your characters are going through. And if they don't relate, they don't care. And if they don't care - they stop reading. And you don't want that.

Creating a theme readers can relate to is SO important. Think about Bridget Jones and the theme of self-discovery - couldn't we all relate to that!

So, what do I mean by theme?

Theme is the big idea or condition you as the writer want to convey through your book. It is the emotion or message you want to use that connects you with your readers.

It might be love conquers all, blood is thicker than water, crime doesn't pay....

Some examples of theme include:

  • The power of love

  • The bonds of family

  • Never giving up

  • Overcoming fear

  • Friendship

  • Loyalty

  • Revenge

  • Redemption

  • Perseverance

  • Death, mortality, and dying

  • Self discovery

You get the idea...

Without a universally recognised emotion or message, your book will not resonate with readers because they will not be able to emotionally put themselves in your characters shoes - imagine trying to connect with an emotionless robot that has no feelings or viewpoint. It would be impossible, right?

But when you have a clear theme, no matter how crazy your plot might become, readers will still relate to the emotion of it because they will have experienced something similar in their own lives - they will have an emotional foundation to draw on and connect.

For example, sci-fi stories usually have plots that you and I, or most people, will never experience in our everyday lives, but the themes often extremely relatable.

Think about The Martian by Andy Weir. It utilises themes of loneliness, isolation, perseverance, and fear - things we have all experienced.

The plot keeps our interest - but the theme keeps us emotionally engaged.

Most novels draw on a couple of complementary themes, just as the Martian does.

Some examples of theme in well-known literature include:

The power of love

  • Romeo and Juliet

  • Wuthering Heights

  • A Wrinkle in Time

The bonds of family

  • Crazy Rich Asians

  • The Light Between Oceans

  • The lovely bones

Never giving up

  • The Alchemist

  • The Kite Runner

  • Brida


  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

  • Big Little Lies

  • The Secret Life of Bees


  • A Dog's Journey

  • Hunger Games

  • My Sister's Keeper


  • Hamlet

  • Count of Monte Christo

  • Gone Girl


  • Les Miserables

  • Atonement

  • All the Light We Cannot See


  • The Book Thief

  • Unbroken

  • Room


  • Me Before You

  • Picture of Dorian Gray

  • Where the Crawdads Sing

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