Theme in Action – Experiments in Living

by | 2 February 2018 | Writing | 10 comments

So far in our theme series, we’ve covered What Theme Actually Is, how to Narrow Down Your Theme into a focusing question, but how do any of these actually work in the story itself?

It’s all well and good to have a handy little focusing question and a bunch of answers, but how do we actively apply these to a story?

Here’s where we get to one of my most favourite parts of theme. Experiments in Living and Character Arcs.

Now, Experiments in Living (EiL) aren’t something you learn about in your general literacy class, so let me give you a quick explanation. To define it basically, an EiL is a person’s belief or view on a subject, and how that shapes the way they live and respond in certain situations and challenges.

Bob could have an EiL where he believes that revenge will make him happy. Tim could have an EiL where he believes that joy is only found while eating hamburgers.

Everyone has Experiments in Living. You have EiLs about different aspects of your life. Do you believe that it’s right to take someone else’s things without asking? No? Well, that’s an Experiment in Living.

Now, even though I used humorous and light EiL examples (joy is only found while eating hamburgers), a good Experiment should be much deeper. It should be the very core motive of why we act how we act.

They should be realistic and authentic to how people act in real life. There’s no use in trying to give a character the EiL that ‘hope only exists in roast potatoes’ because I highly doubt that will be relatable to most of your readers.


That’s what an Experiment in Living is, but how do you write them and what have they got to do with theme?

Now, raise your hand if you remember what I said in Theme Post #2. I said that coming up with lots of different answers to the Focusing Question was very important because you’d need it soon. That time of need is here and now.

An Experiment in Living is any one of those alternate answers. To return to my examples in the last theme post, and to scoop up a random character named John, I’ll show you what I mean.

Theme: Hope

Focusing Question: How can you keep up hope in the darkness?

John’s EiL could be to ‘Wait it out for the darkness to leave’ or to ‘Cling to the hope from the past’ or ‘If you look hard enough, hope can always be found somewhere.’ There’s many other options for Experiments, and plenty of characters have different ones.

While John thinks that it’s best to leave hope until after the darkness is gone, Liam might believe that he has to bring the hope.


So is the character’s original Experiment in Living the message of your book?

Absolutely not.

Why not?

Because of Character Development.

If John begins your novel hiding away and waiting for the darkness to go and the hope to miraculously spring upon him…there’s a lot of room for him to grow and learn.

Before we get in to the actual character arc details (which will come in the next post), there’s still more important things to think about. In order to have a strong Experiment in Living (strong, not necessarily correct) you have to know why your character thinks that way.

What is it that makes John want to just wait out the darkness? What has happened in the past to make him believe that this is the best way?

Put yourself in John’s (or your character’s) shoes. Really delve deep to find the answers to these questions. Not only will your theme be stronger and deeper, but you’ll develop the foundations of who your character is and pave the way to make them more unique and more realistic than just your ordinary Tom, Dick, or Harry.


This is one of my favourite parts of theme, and it’s such an important element. Experiments in Living tie in the Theme and the characters—though we’ll get into the details of that more in the next post—and theme and characters are basically the best things ever, so I’m not complaining. 😉


Chat with me! Take the main character of your current WIP—What’s his/her answer to your Focusing Question? How would that same character answer my question ‘How can you keep up hope in the darkness’? Are you feeling ready to tackle the theme in your novel yet? 😛

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. J.A.Penrose

    Ah, yesss! I love EiL’s and the character arcs! It’s so much fun to plan, and build through the book!
    There’s so much in theme, and I find it easiest to find through character. I mean, that’s the direct application of the whole meaning of a story.

    Love the post again! Awesome topic, and great explanation.

    • Jane Maree

      Agh yes saaame! I really enjoy it too. 🙂
      Me too—characters in general are so fun. I love making alll the precious babies. 😛

      Thank you!!

  2. Kate Flournoy

    Yaaaaassss! This is where the rubber meets the road. My absolute favorite thing everrrr because it’s where my two favorite story elements meet— theme and character.
    Great post. You summed it up very nicely.

    • Jane Maree

      It always gets me excited because it’s out of the theory and planning and into the actual action and everything starts coming together.
      Basically I transform into an evil mastermind sitting in a chair rubbing my fingers together and giggling gleefully. XD
      Thank youu. ^-^ I’m glad to hear that it was good, because I was about halfway sure I made no sense at all. 😉

  3. Catherine @ The Rebelling Muse

    Interesting…I’ve never come across this concept. At least in this way before. I’ve always thought of it as the character’s worldview rather than Experiment in Living.

    Nice post, Jane!


    • Jane Maree

      Experiments in Living and Worldview are basically the same thing, but the EiL is simply a little easier to apply to the specific theme than just the worldview as a whole.

      Thank you, Catherine! 🙂

  4. MiddleEarthMusician

    Nice post, Jane! This made a ton of sense to me. I really like how you use examples to show what you mean; that really helps me to understand better. 🙂

    • Jane Maree

      Aw yay, I’m so glad to hear that. If there’s ever any detail you’re confused about or want me to go over in more depth, don’t hesitate to ask! 😉

  5. Jenna

    Yay, another theme post! Gonna use your advice as I develop my characters and plot for my WIP. 😉

    • Jane Maree

      Awk, I’m so glad! I really hope they help with your stories. 😀

About Me

Monthly Newsletter

My Posts—Your Emails

Enter your email address to subscribe to my blog and receive notifications of new posts via email.

Recent Posts


Pin It on Pinterest