How To Develop Your Theme in Fiction

When writing, it can be very easy to get caught up in the action, the love interests and the characters. But one thing all fiction writers must ask is “What’s the deeper meaning?” English class will have you answering this about countless books, poems and excerpts, but often times its so dreadfully boring that when you write, it’s the last thing you want to think about.

What is theme?

The theme of a story is the central idea that is reflected throughout, from beginning to end, in the action and characters.

In a longer story such as a novel, there are bound to be sub-themes, themes that occur in smaller sections of the story that aren’t central to the plot. In a short story there is usually one main theme. Here we are focusing on your central theme, no matter what type of piece you are working with, or if there are sub themes involved.

How to approach your theme

It’s important to start simple. Theme is nothing incredibly complicated, however it is vital for any story. Besides entertainment, it’s one of the main reasons people read- to get some unique perspective on life rooted in the exciting, often relatable context of a story. This can seem intimidating to some. Maybe you don’t think you have a unique perspective. I’m here to tell you that if your story has yet to be told, any theme you choose, unique or not, is fresh in the context of your story.

Theme can be identified in the way your characters respond to the difficulties they face, as well as each other. It’s a fairly simple concept, but it must be kept track of throughout the writing. It’s easier than you might think to lose track of your theme. But if you know each character well, to the point where you know how they would react in any situation, and their reactions outline your theme, then you don’t have to worry about this.

Choosing your theme

This is very dependent on what your story is all about. (However choosing a theme before the story is just as valid of an option.)

It all comes down to what your message is. What do you believe in? What is your view on life? In the case of your story, what do you think about the conflict that your characters face? Or, more likely, what do you think about the thing your conflict and characters represent?

Your theme could also be about one common thing or situation, and your story would outline how different people react to, or handle it. This would then reflect your own message on the topic.

Example Themes








(Feel free to use your own ideas or other previously existing ones)

We should always put others first

Our first objective should always be happiness

We should always seek to have wisdom


obtain peace


Political Beliefs

We should seek equality in race





The ideal political system will be found in liberalism


a republic

a democracy


What are you teaching?

Remember that as storytellers, we take on the roles of teachers. Your readers are essentially your students, and your theme- the lesson. So think of who your audience is, and what they will benefit from learning. Is it something that will open their eyes, or something that they already know? Will they take it to heart, or brush it off?


Originally published at on January 7, 2015.

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