The theme of a story is probably the most important factor of creating a plot. Without a certain theme to follow throughout your story, you will probably end up with one of the most dysfunctional and confusing plots you’d ever seen. The theme of a story gives it direction. It influences every little thing in a story so profusely that it needs to be thought about carefully. The plot and the theme are very closely interrelated. Plot is the word used to describe what happens in the story, the sequence of events that takes the characters through a conflict to a resolution. The theme on the other hand is the overall idea that you as the author are trying to convey though your story. You should always have a set theme to your story to start moulding a plot around it.
The cool thing about the theme of a story is that it shows up though the writing and situations in patterns. Since the theme is often a lesson that we learn about people or life, it needs to have a symbolic meaning that the people reading your story can emotionally connect to or understand.
For example, there are many common themes that reoccur in all literature it has been argued that there is anywhere between 3 to 40 main themes in all literature that continues to be explored by each successive generation of writer – including you. There are many variations of these common themes, as people tend to tweak them to their desired stories. There are some very well-known themes such as;
The Great Journey
This theme follows a character or a group of characters through a series of episodic adventures as they travel. This theme may be used to make a story that is happy, sad or even comedic. (eg. The Odyssey)
Loss of Innocence
Sometimes called the ‘coming of age story’, this kind of theme most commonly introduces and ‘innocent’ character to the evil or complexity of the real/adult world around them.
The Noble Sacrifice
The sacrifice can be for any reason except for self – the character can be rescuing a loved one, and enemy, a group of people, humanity even – but the bottom line is that they are making a sacrifice or sacrificing themselves in an effort to save others.
The Great Battle
This kind of theme is about people or groups of people in conflict. It is sometimes a good vs. evil story in a sense. Where the antagonist – a monster/creature/human/alien/computer/etc – is trying to kill the protagonist, who must fight to stay alive and/or defeat the antagonist. (Sub-categories would be; person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. society, person vs. technology and etc.)
The Fall From Grace
This theme shows us people going where only God should go, doing what only God is meant to do, or attempting to do something that human beings should never do. This is always followed by misfortune, whether it is the direct result of their action or an act of God.
Love and Friendship
This one is kind of self-explanatory, there is a romance to the story, weather love or platonic such as friendship between two characters. The ending may be happy, sad, or bittersweet, but the main them is always romantic/or platonic love between characters.
The Capriciousness of Fate
The common element is that there is some force guiding the person’s life over which he or she has no control. Greek tragedies fit this category. Often, there is a major reversal of fortune. It could be from good-to-bad or from bad-to-good.
The direction of the story is focused on getting justice or revenge against the enemy of the story. The subject is fairly obvious, the outcomes can differ – sometimes the outcome is good and sometimes it is not.
The Big Trick
In this one, someone or some group of people intentionally trick someone else. Two really good examples of this theme are the stories Rumplestiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood.
The Big Mystery
Something unexplained happened and it is the protagonist’s job to find an explanation for it. Almost all police and detective dramas work within this form, as do most espionage and spy thrillers. Sherlock Holmes is a good example of this kind of theme.
All of these are just examples of common themes – there are countless others that have been explored by writers.