Themes within your book
Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Themes are integral to writing a book. These are central topics that your characters have to overcome, work through, or work toward before the end of the book.
What is a theme?
Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster:
theme (noun) \ ˈthēm \
1a: a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation
b: a specific and distinctive quality, characteristic, or concern
Themes are what enrich your story. Your theme might be women overcoming adversity in their surroundings (courage and heroism), finding love (love, obviously), overcoming hardships in relation to sex, race, or creed (prejudice), being an outsider in the world you live in (individual vs society), and the list goes on and on ad infinitum. These help color your characters and move the plot forward. You might have only one theme, or you might have several. Though, likely, without realizing it, you’ll have a central theme and smaller ones that feed into that.
The Difference Between Theme and Moral
A theme is the central idea on which the work is based, and a moral lesson is that message or the lesson that the author wants the reader to derive from their work. These two go hand and hand, and while you can have a theme without a moral, you can’t have a moral without a theme. And not every story is going to intentionally have a moral, but it’s in the nature of storytellers to subtly infuse morals into their words.
Here are a couple of examples of morals:
- Always tell the truth
- Keep your promises
- Don’t cheat
- Treat others as you want to be treated
- Be forgiving
- Take responsibility for your actions
A similarity between themes and morals is that they can go without the author specifically saying them, which is a reason I say that authors don’t always know that they’ve also included a moral. And the reader can always derive a moral without the author specifically putting one in.
Do I need a theme?
Short answer: yes, absolutely.
Why do you need a theme? It’s integral to the development of your characters, how the world affects them, and how your plot moves forward. You might be thinking at this point that a theme sounds remarkably similar to a conflict, and that’s because they tie into each other. One of the conflicts in your book could be having an interracial couple and having the FMC (female main character) and MMC (male main character) stay together through the conflict arising from their socioeconomic backgrounds, and your theme would be love conquers all.
How themes change your characters
Let’s keep with the theme that love conquers all. How will this change your character, you might ask? In the situation laid out above, your characters will have to learn more about each other’s backgrounds and face backlash for their relationship. These struggles will make your characters more compassionate, especially the character who doesn’t have to face as many socioeconomic struggles. Throughout the book, you should easily be able to see where the characters grow more compassionate toward each other and have more of a passion for helping those around them who might be facing some of the struggles they are.
A cliché isn’t always a bad thing. A cliché becomes a cliché from becoming overused, but depending on how you do it, it could easily turn out boring and overdone. It might be a little harsh to say that, but saying it now will be less of a kick than your reviewers saying you’re unoriginal.
There are a couple of themes that are very cliché but, depending on the way the story is told, can be just as exciting as the first time it was told. In my experience, these very familiar but still enjoyable themes are usually found in the romance and adventure/fantasy genres.
Join us next week for the final installment of our new authors series, where we’ll talk about conflict.
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