Workshops for Writers: Using Themes and Thematic Statements

Themes. Central ideas. Driving force. Meaning.

These words and ideas may seem scary because no one wants to preach to their audience, or maybe you think stories shouldn’t have these heavy meanings, or maybe you think they just happen on their own without the writer thinking about them. Whatever the reason for avoiding thinking about the themes of your work, they are misguided. Knowing your theme will only strengthen your story because it puts you at the helm of the telling and gives you authorial control that the reader will be able to pick up on.

Thinking about the central idea or theme in our work will help us push our stories further and make our metaphors and imagery ring truer. Themes also help the pieces of our story connect. Knowing the themes and thematic statement dominant in our story will help us make decisions about what is going to strengthen our stories and what is going to weaken our stories. A few books on writing say that every action, decision, line of dialogue, scene choice, etc. should all serve the overall themes and thematic statement.

That may sound extreme, but when we start looking at well-crafted stories and examining the themes within, we’ll notice that the writers and creators have done exactly that. They’ve pinpointed their theme and wrapped it in complexity and intrigue and continuously had it at the back of our minds. Some examples include Get Out, Sorry to Bother You, Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers(free to read), and so many more.

The hard part at times is discovering what our themes are and what we are driving at with our stories because self-examination is hard and we might not always like what we find there. But that’s okay because writing is hard and as writers, we understand the difficulty that it takes to make a story work. We knew it the moment we decided to be writers that this was all going to be hard work.

A common misconception about thematic statements is that they are short simple things like ‘love’, ‘friendship’, ‘family’, ‘justice vs injustice’, etc. But those are themes. When we identify our themes, we can see how it plays out through the story in various ways and pick out what best represents our story: thematic statement.

To learn more about themes and thematic statements, check out the Write Better, Right Now posts all about them:

When crafting our themes and thematic statements, we should ask ourselves. If we are writing about love, what makes it different from The Notebook, Wuthering Heights, Stand By Me, or countless other stories on love?

And that is where we will start seeing our themes and unique thematic statement.

Exercise and Discussion/Notes

For this workshop, take a moment to learn and understand themes. If you’re doing this workshop alone, take notes on the resources provided throughout this article. What strikes you as wrong or pushes you out of your comfort zone? What information have you heard or maybe tried before with no results? Dig into each of the resources past simply reading them. If you’re doing this workshop in a group, use the resources shared below to lead a discussion with the other writers in your group.

For the exercise, writers doing this workshop in a group should pull a past story or current work in progress out to discuss what they were trying to say with the stories and what themes are present there. Share your stories with the group and see what themes they picked up on or how they interpreted your attempt to match your thematic statement.

For writers doing this alone, read through a past or current work in progress and note what themes and thematic statement are. What is your story actually about beyond what is happening on the page? Then write out what your ideal reader would say about the story and how it made them feel. What aspects of your story stuck out to them and resonated in some way with their life?


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