You’re at a swanky party. The conversation and drinks are flowing. Talk turns to writing and you happen to mention that you’ve written a novel. Then someone asks, “What’s it about?”
“Well, “ you say, “a stock broker embezzles millions of his client’s money an runs off to South America. And then he--”
“No,” they say, “what’s it about?”
They’re asking you about your story’s theme. So, what is “theme”? The dictionary definition states that theme is: “the main subject that is being discussed or described in a piece of writing, a movie, etc.”.
But, wait, doesn’t the plot describe the main subject of your writing? Well, plot does describe what happens in your story. But, theme is what the story is about. The underlying idea in your work is your theme.
If your plot is about a man who gets out of prison and overcomes the stigma of being an ex-con to eventually found a Fortune 500 company, then your theme would be how persistence pays off. Let’s take another example. You write about a woman who leaves a loveless marriage with her two children and few resources. She comes to a new town to start over and encounters obstacle after obstacle. At her lowest point sympathetic townspeople rally to help her out. That’s the plot. The theme might be love thy neighbor or love one another.
While the plot is the moving muscle and sinew of your novel, the theme is its beating heart.
Next time I’ll talk about how you can incorporate theme into your story.