Themes and Thematic Statements
Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post helping writers understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level.
Write Better, Right Now’s topics for May:
- Themes and Thematic Statements (5/3)
- Finding Your Story’s Thematic Statement (5/10)
- Finding Your Story’s Themes (5/17)
- Enhancing Themes and Thematic Statements (5/24)
Before we get into the weeds of themes and thematic statements, I want to clarify an aspect of them. In a lot of resources and teachings, themes and thematic statements are used interchangeably. It makes it super confusing when talking about them. Here when I talk about themes, I’ll be referring to small idea themes like friendship, love, home, family, hate, etc. When I talk about thematic statements, I’ll be specifically talking about the big driving theme behind your story like ‘love conquers all except when pitted against God and country.’
Unlike our past topics, themes and thematic statements are a combination of big and little picture storytelling elements. So, I won’t be doing examples in the same way I have done in the past. Themes are harder to see on the one line-level because it is meant to connect to the bigger whole, same with the thematic statement.
“Gus lost his book in the weeds behind school.”
That line could work perfectly within one story depending on its theme or work horribly. You can also use themes or your thematic statement to enhance a line or section by thinking about how you can make it in some way connect back to the themes or thematic statement you are working with. A famed writer whose name escapes me at the moment used to tape a document or note with their themes and thematic statement printed on it right at their desk. This way, they said, they’d be always making the right choices to propel their story’s meaning forward.
Themes are the underlining subjects or topics at work within your story like school, government, friendship, etc.
A thematic statement is the main driving statement behind your work. It can pose a question or directly state an idea that your story will prove as true in a variety of ways.
Not every author chooses a theme or thematic statement for their story. It’s not a requirement in writing a good story well. For me, and other authors who use themes and thematic statements, what they help us do is create a work that does something more than tell a good story. They help us tell a deep and complex story. Themes and thematic statements arise naturally from stories in the reader’s mind, but to have control over what registers for the reader and how it affects the reader is the work a lot of writers write stories for.
To find out what your themes are, think about what story you’re trying to tell. What subjects or real-world connections come to mind? Is your story about a dog and its best friend who is a cat about friendship, home, devotion, or a combination? Remember themes are subjects or topics usually in the form of abstract nouns like politics, hate, love, home, family, etc.
To discover your thematic statement, do the same exercise, but this time instead of thinking about the subjects that come up throughout your work, think about the overall statement you may be making with your story. Is your dog and cat story about ‘how friendship is the only thing that will keep us immortal?’ Or maybe you’re making another type of statement with your story.
I’ll get into both more throughout the month, but that’s the gist of figuring them out.
With both themes and thematic statements, there is often more than one. Multiple themes are great, though try and keep them connected in some way so they can develop and deepen each other. Multiple thematic statements will cause a lot of confusion both for you as a writer and for readers trying to understand the story they are experiencing. Stick to one powerful thematic statement, deepened and developed by connected themes that show your thematic statement at different levels and aspects.
Some writers prefer to figure out what their thematic statements are before they write. They’ll then use that to figure out what themes they should play with within their story. Other writers prefer to write their story first and explore what their thematic statement and themes might be on the page. Explore both methods to figure out what type of writer you are.
Take a current work in progress and pinpoint your themes and thematic statement if you haven’t already. Write them down either in your story journal or somewhere else you can easily access them. Hell, write them directly on the draft to help guide you as you finish your story. If you end up finishing your piece, check your story against your themes and thematic statement. Are you working within your thematic statement? Are the themes you’re using clear and connected?
If you already know what themes and thematic statement you’re working with, go through your story and pinpoint areas where you can use them to heighten your story. Focus on as many levels of your story as you can. Think about how your themes are playing out between character interactions, on the sentence level, scene level, even in how you open and end your story.
Write Better, Right Now’s topics from April:
- What is Descriptive Writing (4/4)
- Descriptive Writing in Dialogue (4/12)
- Descriptive Writing to World Build (4/18)
- Descriptive Action (4/28)
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Please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on using themes or thematic statements in your stories or your struggle areas with it in your writing! I’d also love to know how you made out with the exercise. Catch you next week for our Write Better, Right Now posts on digging into your story’s thematic statement.
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