What is Theme?

by | 15 December 2017 | Writing | 12 comments

Theme is one of those ‘writerly’ words that people sometimes talk about, and say is important, but don’t actually have that much to share about it. It’s one of the most underrated parts of storytelling.

This is the first post in a series about theme. I’ll probably do one or two a month, though I don’t have any specific plan. I have no idea how many posts this will be or anything. I’m just winging it. 😛


But before we can get into the details of how to write a good theme and what that has to do with anything in your story…what exactly does the word ‘theme’ mean?

There’s a few common misconceptions about theme, and it’s easy to get mixed up if you’ve only got vague hints to go off of.


Theme is NOT…

  • The moral of your story. The “so kids, that is why you shouldn’t go outside at nighttime” that readers can take away at the end of the novel.
  • The actual plot subject of the book. You can have a book about planes, but the theme isn’t ‘planes’ because that’s not an ideal, that’s an object.
  • Theme is also not an unimportant thing that happens in some books. Nor is it something you can just tack on to the story as an afterthought.


Theme is the broad ideal you want to address in your story.

For example: in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief one of the most obvious themes is friendship.

A theme in Nadine Brandes Out of Time series, is ‘shalom.’ Peace.

In The Lord of the Rings there’s a strong theme of Power, among many others.


If I was asked what Percy Jackson was about I’d say something along the lines of “contemporary fiction about demigod kids trying to fix up their greek godly parents’ issues.” But then, if I delve a little deeper, what is the reason behind the story? How do the characters change? What is a deep topic that is indirectly woven through the book? I picked friendship, though there are also other themes in there too.

Thus can the theme be found.


The theme is the deep reason for the book’s existence. Example themes could be truth, honour, courage, hope, perseverance, forgiveness, and so many more.


Theme is the foundation upon which your entire story should be held up.


If theme is that important, I think it’s time we started to treat it as that important.

I’d like to encourage you to pick a book you’ve read recently, or one you really love, or even your own novel! Take that book and think about what the theme is. What is the broad ideal that it is about?

And then when you’ve worked that out, you can come and tell me the book and theme in the comments. 😉


Do you know that the theme of your WIP is? Have you learned much about theme before? Did my post even make sense? (To be honest, I’m not even sure it did. 😯 ) Hang out in the comments with me!

Jane Maree

Jane Maree

Jane Maree is an Australian writer, adventurer at heart, beloved daughter of the King of Kings, and believer in at least six impossible things before breakfast. Raised on fairy tales, scraped knees, and makeshift swords, she has yet to outgrow any of them. In her day job, Jane teaches music and freelances as an editor, but by night she crafts daring stories of broken heroes overcoming extraordinary odds.


  1. Kate Flournoy

    YAS. YAS YAS YASSSS. So many rants. This is probably my absolute favorite aspect of stories everrrrr because it ties everything else together. OW. Lovely post.

    Les Miserables… redemption, compassion, and forgiveness.

    Songkeeper… leadership, devotion, and home.

    Rogue One (we can do movies right?? Right) hope, responsibility, and sacrifice.
    Ugh, stop me now or I’ll go on forever. XD

    • Jane Maree

      YES SAME. I have ranted about theme a lot over this past year especially. xP I just love it so much.

      Ooh yes very nice. They’re all such wonderful strong themes. (And yes, movies count too. 😛 )

  2. J.A.Penrose

    Love theme! Awesome defining!

    • Jane Maree

      Saaame. Theme is the best.
      Thank you! 😉

  3. Sarah

    Love it ^-^

    • Jane Maree

      Yee, thank you. 🙂

  4. Jenna

    Great post! Theme is something that I was kinda confused about, so this was very helpful. Now, hoping I got the concept of theme down; I think Chuck Black’s books (three series. Epic) have a common theme of faith, perseverance and strength.

    • Jane Maree

      Ahh thank you. I’m so glad this could be helpful, and I hope the rest of the series will be too. ^-^
      Yes! You’ve got it in one. I’ve read some of Chuck Black’s books, and I’d pick those as themes too. 😀

  5. MiddleEarthMusician

    THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!!! XD I’M DYING FOR IDEAS ON THEME!!! 😀 I think my theme for my pirate WIP is going to be friendship. 🙂 Yes, your post made perfect sense. XD

    • Jane Maree

      You’re very welcome! There will be several more coming in January and February too, so hang on for those. 🙂
      Ooh yes. I love themes of friendship, they can be done really well.

  6. Quinley

    Awesome post, Jane!:) Theme is a very important part of a story.

    • Jane Maree

      Yes it definitely is!
      Thanks a ton for reading, Quinley. 😀

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