Oh…Ho – The Theme Devil

Figuring out the theme of my novel has been a torturous and inspirationally deflating process.

I knew it had to be there. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. But for the life of me, I could NOT sit down and tell anyone what it was.

I bought books of quotes and read them in search of some little nugget, some little underlying message that would trigger an idea of what my theme was, but nothing happened. I read lists of common themes online, and yet….nothing clicked.

I’d get a vague idea, like Girl vs. the World, but that sucked and just wouldn’t do. It was like a Theme Devil was tempting me to just pick one. Any one. Like it would be funny to sit back and watch me squirm while I attempted to ground this novel around a ridiculous theme that didn’t fit.

I felt like I didn’t know my own story. A story that has been inside me a long time. A story that wakes me up at 3am to visit. I felt I should have known her better.

But I didn’t. It was true. I hadn’t dug deep enough to hit the nerve of the book.

Until yesterday. Yesterday this was sort of me:


Yesterday, while reading a comment on Goodreads I found my theme. IN A COMMENT. Yeah. Out of all the others floating around out there, this one was the one that flipped the switch.

Nothing is without price.

My main character has to give up a lot. She sacrifices much, thus there is a cost. And just like I’d hoped, this theme can act as a double-edged sword. Sometimes we sacrifice and gain. Sometimes we sacrifice and lose.
This theme is prevalent throughout this story.
So why is theme so important???
For me, theme is essential. When I read, I look for it. I want to sense it without being told what it is. I want to barely see it under the surface, near invisible but making it’s presence known. There can be one, two or ten themes. It doesn’t matter and it’s unique to each story. But it needs to exist.
Theme is hidden in the details and the details are often what halts a writer. Not details like.. “The desk was made of a deep crimson wood,” but details IN THE PLOT.
Characters experience conflict. Through these experiences, they face the underlying theme. The way these experiences effect and change the characters causes the reader to come to some conclusion about the character’s circumstance and then think about it’s relevance in their own life. The conclusion drawn IS THE THEME. 
  • She love’s him so much and can’t be with him. I remember this boy in high school.. : Forbidden Love
  • Awe…she’s growing up. Being a kid is tough, I remember when… : Coming of Age
  • She’s lost so much. I know what it’s like to act out of love & pay for it… : Nothing is Without Price
Theme is not limited to being a moral lesson, it can also simply be something that makes a reader relate to the characters and their plight.
I mean, really….How many of us have ever dated a sparkly vampire??? None. If you have, please be sure to comment πŸ™‚
But how many of us have ever loved what we weren’t supposed to have? How many of us have had to make hard choices in the name of love? How many of us have felt different, like we don’t belong? I venture to say most, if not all. This is why I think teenage girls identify with the story of Twilight SOOO well. THEY RELATE.
So….I’ve squashed another monster this week. The Theme Devil is dead. 
I’m sure a couple other themes will pop up as I go through yet another rewrite, and I’ll be sure to let you guys know what they are.
How about you guys? What is your theme?


  1. My theme is being an outsider. How an individual fits into a larger community or society, or more often, doesn't fit. A pretty common theme, I think, for many people!

  2. The theme of my middle grade fantasy Lost in Lexicon is reconnecting with imagination. Of course there's more than one theme, as you note. Another Lexicon theme is learning to think for oneself.

    For the second Lexicon book, The Ice Castle (now nearing its final revision), the theme is the struggle for freedom and justice. A second theme is finding one's part in the orchestra of life!

    For my YA under-construction novel, The Beechwood Flute, a coming of age story, the theme is finding one's courage.

  3. The theme of my novel Back Ward is 'whistle-blowing'; that is, revealing the misuse of power;having the courage to see it for what it is and more importantly courage to reveal it at risk to the self. Subthemes in the novel related to the major theme are: power over the vulnerable; gender based power; outrage at abuse and misuse of ligetimate power; sexual oppression; compassion and empathy inherent in the whistle-blower.

  4. The theme of my 2nd draft is "freedom must be exchange for usefulness". My two characters are psychics, who fight spirits of human emotion. The narrator has to devote part of his life to become one to no longer be a burden. Another character devotes part of his limited time in America out of duty. Both exchange their freedom to be useful, for similar reasons.

    Other themes include: "coming of age", "spitting it out", "discovering emotions", "opening up", "seeing the good instead of the bad"–

    –is that a "Florence and the Machine" tag I see among the labels? *posts and clicks link*