Jun 25, 2011

Theme - Your Writing's Message

Writing through themes.

I've been wanting to write this post since the workshop I recently took on How to Write a Series, hosted by the wonderful fantasy-writer Jennifer Fallon. There was a lot of information in this workshop, but as I usually do, I hone in one thing. Theme. I've come to see this is a week spot for me.

Jennifer explains that theme should drive your story, it should be the first thing you tell people in your elevator pitch when asked, 'So, what's your story about?'

Heck, I thought that was what premise was for. Premise is different from theme. Premise is the breakdown of what happens in your story. A one sentence synopsis. Theme is the message behind your story - what are you really trying to show people, exampled by your characters' journey?

It finally hit me while I was watching 'Forrest Gump' the other night. The premise is demonstrating how a young man can overcome any adversity and succeed in life despite physical and mental handicaps, no matter how much people underestimate him. The theme is more important. Lucky for me the themes are actually stated in this movie:
  • Stupid is as stupid does.
  • Life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.
And the unstated theme for me was; people die, love does not.

For my tween novel Dog Show Detective, my themes are easy, 'identity can be misleading', and 'Believing in yourself can lead to surprising results'. I'm struggling a little more with the themes of 'The Costume Maker'. I know it's based on prejudice, fear and identity - I just have to work a little harder to articulate that into a clear message. In the meantime, I've just started reading:

And today I'm off to attend a workshop on Creating Colourful Characters.


  1. The theme of prejudice, fear, and identity brings to mind the theme (idiom) "don't judge a book by its cover." All three of those are in a short called "The Treasure of Lemon Brown." Have you ever read it? It's fabulous. Great post!!

  2. Great post! I need to be better about distinguishing between premise and theme.

  3. Making sure the premise and the theme are interesting also helps.

    Sounds like you're going to some great lectures. Look forward to seeing what else you come away with.


  4. I liked this post about theme. I can't always recognize it in my work since I'm so busy with plot, I need to work on this.

  5. Alleged - Excellent idea, I think you nailed it for me.

    Sauyma - I'm a late bloomer with the themes as well, but it seems to make sense once you get the hang of it.

    Moody - I am getting a bit addicted to workshops, but it always manages to show me something new and motivates me to get more words out.

    Catherine - Thanks. I've always been focused on the plot too, which is of course still very very important.

    The last couple of weeks have been crazy for me with school reports to write, assignments to mark, Matilda's birthday and workshops. I'm finally sitting down now to visit everyones' blogs. I know I've been slack, I'll be a good visitor and bring teacake.

  6. Hi Charmaine! I just discovered your blog, I'm so glad I did. Great post, and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of theme vs. premise. I'm in the middle of writing my first novel now and appreciate the tips very much!

    I'm also a dog lover and my dog's name is Clancy, so I love your web address! :)

  7. Welcome Julie!
    I actually had a black dog named Clancy before I met my husband. Clancy stayed with my Dad and they were best friends for over 16yrs.
    And always happy to share anything new I learn about writing (and I've still a lot to learn).

  8. I love Jennifer Fallon! Just bought that book you have up there, can't wait to read it.

    And that's certainly a good point... I always have trouble figuring out themes...although I sometimes they just sneak up on me.

    I'm also really bad at one-sentence summaries of my stories.... *sigh*

  9. Have fun at your workshop. I really want to do one of those sometime soon.

  10. I struggle with this, as well. My themes never seem to manifest themselves until I am well into the manuscript. I am still trying to decide if this is good or bad.

    Great post!

  11. Sounds like a great workshop. Theme isn't something I often think about. I guess I should... lol ;)

  12. Thanks I learned something new today. Now I must go and find my theme. When blurb isn't enough...*sigh*

  13. Great words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing your workshop experiences with us! I started thinking about my themes as I was reading this. Relationships.

  14. Hi! I'm stopping by from Julie's blog (What Else i Possible). *runs back to WIP to review its theme* :D

  15. Bring more tea cake and a slice or two...so much to take in we need more time to nibble. Thanks for chrystalising the premise theme thing into meaningful mouthfuls Charmaine. As Moody pointed out, more signposts to word right if they are to direct others successfully to our ultimate destination...our book!

  16. That elevator pitch can be difficult sometimes, but it's good to have the gist of things to keep it simple.

    Tossing It Out

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  18. I'll be copying this one to add to my Great Writing Advice file.

  19. Very, very cool post. Whoever said being a writer was easy? There are loads of things to think about. AND, theme or premise, these all work together and need to flow seamlessly to create a compelling plot.

  20. I attended this very course with Jennifer at the last SuperNova in Sydney... were you there??? The course was great...and I've been working on my themes as well:)