Defining theme in fiction can be difficult. Sometimes it helps to define what it is not. It is not the plot (what characters do). It is not the story subject (the topic the author writes about). It is not usually stated directly.
Now that we know what theme is not, let’s examine what it is. The theme of a book is an idea about life or human nature or elements of society that the author shares with her readers. Often it is the lesson or moral underlying the plot.
Themes may be major or minor. A major theme is an idea the author returns to frequently in the novel. Minor themes are ideas that may appear a couple of times in the story. For mystery writers a major theme is “crime does not pay.” A minor theme might be “overcoming adversity”—despite failed relationships a character finds a new romance.
The theme is usually inferred. It is revealed through subtext, subtle details, and events not mentioned directly.
Authors express themes through the
• feelings and thoughts of the main character
• conversations between characters
• changes in the attitude or view of the main character as the story progresses
• actions of the characters in the story
Examine your beliefs, attitudes, opinions and goals, and you will discover your theme.
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