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/


16 thoughts on “What Is the Theme for Your Story?”

  1. Thank you for this, Joan.
    All my writing has one or both of to themes:
    Moving toward a survivable world, and toward one worth surviving in. This is because I am a Professional Grandfather, and want the young people of today to have a decent life.
    For example, my novel Hit and Run, and my coming release Maraglindi, both show the power of love, but without lecturing about it. The theme, as you say, is a guiding light behind the action.

    1. Dear Bob,
      Thank you for writing. I am glad you found this post helpful. I think the themes for your stories are very meaningful and universal for times past, times present, and times future.
      Good luck with all of your writing! Keep cheering us on!
      Never Give Up!

  2. It is good to have a theme, but sometimes as the story unfolds, as the keys are tapped or the pen scribes, another issue rears its head, which can if you let it take you in a different direction at a junction.
    To remain with the original theme, you should go straight on, but sometimes you take the left or right turn. Then you travel along a completely theme.
    A coupe of my books ended up, not on the original theme. I had taken the left turn rather than go straight ahead and gone on a different tack. But in the ended up being a good story.
    When you start the book you have an idea such as; Margaret’s car breaks down on a lonely road at night. Her intended trip was to see her aunt, who lived in a lonely farmhouse. She had seen a gas station some miles back, so began walking when a car drove by in the opposite direction, she waved but it carried on. The road was dark with little light as it was cloudy. all of a sudden she tripped over something in the road, it was the body of a young woman. Margaret was in shock. (the theme was going to be; a police car was the next vehicle to arrive and the pair ended up in a later love match.) But at the cross roads you could decide to go straight on or turn left or right.
    Go straight on and there could be a happy relationship between the two. Or the car that had driven by in the opposite direction turns around and comes back. The driver gets out he is covered in blood. Now you are another cross roads, straight on is an innocent man who had hit a deer in the road and had loaded it into his boot, or turn left when he becomes a killer, the one who had killed the woman found in the road……………….
    Writing is like a painting, sometimes you start and then blank it out and start again or add trees or flowers. It’s your brush, your keyboard or pen, you can make what picture in the minds eye of the reader you want them to read or see.
    So what I’m saying is, in my opinion, you can’t be too dogmatic about the subject you’re writing unless of course it’s factual.
    Thanks for topic Joan.


    1. Dear David,
      Thank you for writing. I agree. Your theme when you start your story may change completely or there may be several themes for your Story. Never fret if it changes. Parts of tour story can reflect a different theme. Enjoy your writing. You are goid at it.
      Never Give Up

  3. Another interesting blog post, Joan. Informative and full of references for further study. Thank you!

  4. This was a great post, Joan. I just finished LIST OF TEN. The theme is hope in face of great difficulties that seem insurmountable. This is a great exercise–I need to do it over and over again with my WIP!

    1. Dear Gretchen,
      Thank you for writing! I am glad tgat this exercise helped you discover whether you decided your theme furst or if it evolved with your story. It is great that you do it both ways. I believe our stories may have more than i
      One theme.
      Never Give Up

  5. Another great post, Joan.

    In my books, the theme throughout is true love conquers all. There are many twists that can take place, even when you have your book outlined before writing and as the story develops.

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

    1. Dear Melanie,
      Thank you for writing. Thanks for sharing the themes for your books. Your books show that there can be more than one theme for a book. Like it can twist and turn in many ways. I am glad you enjoyed reading the comments here on my blog.

      Good luck with your books!
      Never Give Up

  6. Dear Joan, I really enjoyed this post and your topic of the theme of a story. Here is my example: FLIP FLAP FLOODLE Can a flute save this little duck from Mr. Fox? The lovely theme is to never give up! Thank you for all your helpful posts. Love you!

    1. Dear Kathleen,
      Thank you for writing, how sweet of you to share my book Flip Flap Floodle’s theme as an example for a theme from one of your favorite books. You are so sweet. I love you.

      Never Give Up

  7. Thanks Joan for this post. I just published my seventh novel and in reading this I realized, unconsciously & inadvertently, my theme shines through. My story is about young coeds moving away growing up meeting new friends and ending old alliances in a modern way. Then when she visits an uncle the story really takes off with an incredible and unbelievable story within a story but keeping to the theme: children. All the way through its about that, the theme, mixed in with caring, growing, laws, crimes, etc.

    1. Dear Caroline (Kim),
      Thank you for writing. I am glad my post helped you realize the main theme of your books is the same. You figured out you have more than one theme in your books. That is awesome. I believe itvis fun to figure out the themes for my favorite movies. Good luck with your writing!!!
      Never Give Up

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