Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What is Theme in Writing?

What is Theme?

I began teaching my middle grade students about theme in writing this week.

As I spoke about writing, I wondered how many writers out there really know how to reveal the theme of their work to their readers.

So, what is theme?

It's the universal message or truth about life the writer wants to convey.

In the movie, Braveheart, we have the universal truths or messages of "We will not be owned" or "Freedom!"

In the book, The Hunger Games, we see the universal truths or messages of "Survive at all costs" "We will not be broken" "Stick it to the man!"

As you can see, in movies and in novels, there can be many themes weaved throughout like a thread in a tapestry.

How does a writer convey theme to his readers?

Why, through literary devices, that's how!

Feeling words
Tone of Voice

How your character speaks, reacts, moves, and thinks will reveal the theme of your work. 

In The Hunger Games, we had Katniss' inner monologue to guide us. We could read in her words the pain of living in fear, starvation, and pressure. 

The words you select will convey the theme to your readers, so choose wisely. 

Coming up with a theme can be tough, but not impossible...

First Things First

Most of my students want to begin writing their stories NOW because they love to write. However, I tell them they must first learn how to write before they begin. 

Developing the theme of your work first will help establish the tone and mood of your work.

Tone- the attitude of the writer revealed through the narrator (speaker) to the reader (listener).

 We can know Suzanne Collin's attitude toward government institutions and manipulations just by reading the words of her characters. 

Mood- the feeling the reader gets from reading the story. The atmosphere or the feeling of the piece. 

Most readers felt Katniss' pain after reading the first book in the series. We could feel her frustrations, angst, and fear. We could visualize the contrast between District 12 and The Capitol. 


All by the descriptive words the author selected. 

So, before you begin writing your story....think about what the theme is that you want to convey to your readers. 


Most readers want some sort of message, truth, or lesson from the book they are reading, whether it is "Love conquers all" or "Justice prevails" or "The murderer always returns to the scene of the crime" or "Never underestimate the power of a woman scorn!"

Let's face it, most readers read to escape the mundane. We want action, adventure, romance! Give it to us!

There are so many themes out there. If your're struggling to find one, sit back and think about the themes of your favorite movies. Why are they your favorites?  Probably because the themes relate to your life or personal worldview. 

In the end, your work has a chance to make an impact on someone's life. You have the chance to send a message or teach a lesson just through the words you select.

How fascinating is that?

That's what I love about writing. 

Your turn: How do you come up with a theme for your work?  Do you have a process or do you just wing it?


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