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What Is the Theme for Your Story?

What is the Theme for Your Story?

“What Is the Theme for Your Story?” by Joan Y. Edwards

Theme is one of the most difficult story elements to understand. Many people confuse theme with plot. The theme is the author’s view of the world, the moral to their story, the lesson the characters learn in the plot they unfold.

Paul Peditto brought up an interesting topic in my interview of him  on my blog. He figures out his theme first, outlines,  and then writes his story.

Melissa Donovan states, “Some experts have suggested that authors shouldn’t think too much about theme until they’ve produced a draft, while others believe that theme is so integral that it should be present throughout story development.”

  1. Should you figure out the theme before your write the story?
  2. Should you wait until you have written your story to see what the theme turns out to be?

Either way is fine.

What exactly is the theme? How do you figure out the theme of your story? Why is it important to have a strong emotional theme?

Shawn Coyne author of The Story Grid, says theme is the message you want the reader to discover from reading your story.

Jerry Jenkins says, “Plot is what happens. Theme is why it happens.”

Usually when I get an idea for a story I know what the one word theme idea is like love or fear, but how my story unfolds determines what my final view on the theme for this particular story. What do I want the readers to discover about love? Love is long lasting or love fleets like the wind.  What do I want them to learn about fear from the characters in my story? Fear defeats everyone or everyone can defeat fear. People will help you face your fears or fears are dauntless even with help.

Readers want to relate to your story. The theme is how it reaches them on a deep level. It has an emotional pull. It connects with the heart and soul of your readers.

When someone reads your story, they find out your view of the world and human nature because of the plot (what happens) and characters (who does it) in your story.

An author shows us his view on life through the experiences of his characters in a particular set of circumstances. This is the theme for his story.

What is your answer when someone asks you, “What is your story about?”

Chances are you will relate the short pitch for the story, then you’ll probably mention what the main character learns from the events in your book.

Charlotte’s Web
Can a mere spider save a pig from death?
Lesson learned: Even the smallest creature can save someone.

My Cousin Vinny
Can two boys be convicted of murdering a clerk when all they did was forget to pay for a can of tuna?
Lesson learned: Even the least experienced lawyer can save cousin and his friend from a murder conviction when he accepts the help of a friend.

Twelve Angry Men
Can one juror change the mind of eleven other jurors when he has reasonable doubt that an 18 year old committed murder?
Lesson learned: Take your responsibility to protect life seriously and believe you can make a difference.

Ponder the deeper meaning of your story, what lesson, message about human nature or the human condition does the plot and actions of the characters in your story do that gets an emotional reaction from the reader.

Please leave a comment. Share your favorite movie or book with your question about the story and what you learned from it. Thank you for reading my blog. I hope it helps you.


  1. Evan Porter: “How to Write a Theme Statement?” https://wordsbyevanporter.com/theme-statement/
  2. Jerry Jenkins. “How to Develop the Theme of Your Story:” https://jerryjenkins.com/story-themes/
  3. Joan Y. Edwards. “Paul Peditto, Award-Winning Screenwriter and Playwright Shares Ways to Improve Writing:” https://joanyedwards.com/2021/01/23/paul-peditto-award-winning-screenwriter-and-playwright-shares-ways-to-improve-writing/
  4. Joan Y. Edwards. “What? I Need a Plot?” https://joanyedwards.com/2013/09/13/what-i-need-a-plot/
  5. Joan Y. Edwards. “What Is a Pitch?” https://joanyedwards.com/what-is-a-pitch/
  6. Reedsy.com. “What is the theme of a Book:” https://blog.reedsy.com/what-is-the-theme-of-a-book/