Theme gets a bad wrap in school. Sometimes a theme is what you have to write, though at some point we stopped calling them themes and started calling them essays.
Theme gets extra attention musically, as motifs make appearances throughout scores to cue our attention. Personal note: I’m a sucker for a good movie score or soundtrack.
Theme gets a little muddy when we talk writing. It gets confused for subtext. It gets mistaken for summary. It might even be absent.
Theme is important. But what is it?
Theme is what your MS is about. It’s got two parts. Two parts and a lot of facets. The concept (thematic concept if you’re wanting the full name) is what the reader thinks the MS is about. The statement (you guessed it, thematic statement) is what the text says about the subject.
What the hell does that mean?
You can summarize most themes down to a single word or a phrase, to give the reader an idea of the subcutaneous message of your MS. And chances are you do this without realizing that somebody made a whole ton of jargon about it.
Is your story a tale of loneliness? Is it one woman’s quest for justice in the face of a system far too corrupt? Did you just write tens of thousands of words about redemption?
No, I don’t mean “This is the story of Sarah as she tries to get custody of her daughter back.” That’s factual, and that’s not thematic. Find the emotion and ideas behind your story, and express them in somewhat bigger and broader terms.
You need a theme. A story without theme is a disconnected series of themes, and that’s not going to work as a story.
Want to find your theme? Check out this blogpost from my archive. Tomorrow we start talking characters.