I don't know about you, but I have a hard time with theme. Even back in high school, when I had to do a report on a novel regarding the theme, I wanted to cry.
Setting was easy. It's where the story takes place, and I always flew through those reports. Character was easy, too. Talking about the character, how they "grew" during a chapter, was drop-dead easy. Well, maybe not that easy, 'cause I'm still alive, but it was pretty simple for me to do. Plot was a breeze as well, since it was what the story was about. I could do that almost with my eyes closed. Almost. Usually, I had to leave at least one eye open.
Then came Theme. Describe the theme of the story. Wait, isn't that what the story's about?
Uh-uh. That's plot.
Um, is it about what the character does? Where the action takes place?
No, and no.
For those of you that find theme an issue, this is it in a nutshell: theme is a main thought or idea being addressed, woven throughout the whole storyline. It is the issue of the story. It is the core idea, the hidden message people take away from your tale.
Let's take The Lord of the Rings.
The plot is that a simple little hobbit takes on the burden of the One Ring, and pledges to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom before the Dark Lord Sauron should find it and use it to cover all the land in darkness.
The setting is Middle-earth.
The character is multitudinous; primarily Frodo, and Sam, but also Pippin and Merry, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, Theoden, Eomir, Eowyn, Faramir, Denethor, and Gollum.
What is the theme?
Since there can be myriads of thematic threads, the main theme could perhaps be that, no matter how bleak or hopeless a future looks, there is always hope.
It could also be self-sacrifice for the good of others. Gandalf 'dies' in Moria to save the rest of the Fellowships. Frodo and Sam 'abandon' the Fellowship in order to save their companions from the trial of Mount Doom. Boromir dies trying to save his two special hobbits, Pippin and Merry. Faramir risks his life in an effort to obey the wishes of his father. "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for a friend."
Last, (and I'm going to shamelessly quote from the movie Fellowship of the Ring here) it could be, "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."
The theme depends on what you want people to take away from your story.
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