I recently went on an online debate with fellow writers—okay actually, it was more of a trolling war—about book themes. This heated exchange sparked two realizations. One: I really need to go outside once in a while. Two: a lot of people are pretty confused about themes and plot line. It could be just me, but this might be a good thing to know as a write and if you plan to pitch to an agent. For those already aware of this, please feel free to skip this blog.
Themes are the overall moral of the story, the undercurrent that occurs with the tale, the lesson the reader leaves with. It’s not spelled out in bold font, but it’s made apparent through the characters’ actions, the motivation behind it, and its result. Think back to story time in kindergarten. After the teacher finishes reading, she says, “And the moral of the story is…”
EVERY story has a critical point the author is trying to get across, whether it’s good vs evil, the reward of determination, the consequences of jealousy and pride, or the stupidity of young love. What is written verses what’s really being said, hidden messages under the plot. I’ll give you some examples of plot verses theme:
Romeo & Juliet
Plot line: Two lovers from rivaling families resort to suicide in order to be together.
Moral: Don’t let old feuds distract you from paying attention to your children.
Plot Line: A farm boy learns his destiny and joins a rebellion against an evil empire.
Moral: Heroes emerge from the most unlikely places.
The Lord of the Rings
Plot Line: A hobbit fights to save Middle Earth by hiding his magic ring from the forces of darkness.
Moral: Big things come in small packages.
Pride and Prejudice
Plot line: A young English woman is pursued by an arrogant and wealthy young man.
Moral: Make sure you marry for the right reasons.
Plot line: A vengeful barber goes on a murderous rampage in London.
Theme: Avoid barber shops with no repeat business and don’t eat any meat dishes that you didn’t cook yourself.
See, themes are not that hard. Whether blatant or subliminal, every story teaches the reader a valuable lesson, and all I ask is to understand what the hell you’re teaching. And if you write for a younger audience, you must be extra careful of the message you send. Reading is a learning experience that resonates far deeper than television, so the examples you set are critical. It’s up to the writer to know what they are trying to convey to their audience, otherwise your story will have no value and become simply bubble gum for the mind.