Your Story Themes

book cover - Practical Creative Writing Exercises by Grace Jolliffe illustrating an article about illustrating a post for writers about story themesStory themes are important – to the writer and the reader.

If we were to make a list of the books, television shows and films we’ve viewed over the years, we might notice that they all have something in common.

I don’t mean the obvious factors like having been written by your favourite writers, or authors.

No, it is more likely that what they have in common is the story theme.

As readers or writers, we tend to favour certain themes.

For example, on examining your book collection you may find that many of them have themes of betrayal or love.

Be careful how you identify your story themes as it is easy to confuse theme with the plot.

A theme is not defined literally within the text of a story – it is inferred. But, when you read a book or watch a film the themes will gradually become clear.


If you have difficulty distinguishing between theme and plot click here.


A famous example is

a very famous film from the 1970s, ‘Jaws.’

The story of Jaws is about men trying to save a small island holiday town from a dangerous killer shark.

It is a very visual story and you can see what the story is about within minutes.

But the themes are not so quick to reveal themselves. They only become apparent when you follow the story as it gradually unfolds to reveal more layers.

The town must be saved from the shark by a man who is scared of the water, thus we are exploring the theme of fear. As you watch you begin to see themes like survival, love, betrayal, etc.


Some people start writing by deciding on a theme, others begin with a character, or maybe a loose idea for a story.

old painting of a woman writing at a desk illustrating a creative writing article about choosing your story themes

Whatever method you use to begin your writing is up to you, we are all unique, but you should think as carefully about your theme as you do about your story.

As writers, we should pay attention when choosing our themes and you will find some help with this here.

We should only choose those themes that interest us hugely. If we don’t, we risk abandoning our projects before completion. We also risk producing dull, uninspired writing.


This is why writing about themes merely because you feel they are currently ‘on trend’ is a mistake.

If you are only writing a specific story to try to catch a wave of popularity your writing will not be authentic.

You will not be able to write your stories with a genuine passion and your story will be no different from thousands of other stories.


Often writers explore similar themes over and over again although they may be writing about different subjects. Sometimes we are not even aware of why we choose a particular theme.

These reasons can be deeply personal, and connected to the background and private life of the individual writer.


Think about it, it takes a huge amount of interest and compulsion, to make a writer to sit down and write hundreds of pages  – they must feel emotionally connected to the theme to do this.

dark sky over bay illustrating a creative writing article about choosing your story themesMany writers make their choices subconsciously after deciding on the subject. As they work out their story the themes emerge.

Sometimes it is only when we consciously decide to look through our past work that we realize that we have returned to the same theme over and over again.

My agent once pointed out to me that I had frequently written about characters who are trapped in some way and that one of the themes I explore frequently is freedom.

Becoming more aware of the themes that compel me to write has certainly helped when it comes to choosing and completing my personal projects.

There is no doubt that there are certainly particular story themes that draw my attention. These themes change according to what is going on in my life but there are some crucial themes that are very personal to me and I will always return to again and again. This is my compulsion.


We all have our dark places deep within and my creative compulsion may have originated from a dark place in my psyche but that doesn’t matter.

For me, this ‘compulsion’ is a very positive force in my life. It is probably why despite some difficult times when events in my life made it difficult to write I never actually stopped.

Spend some time thinking about the story themes you have already explored – you may get quite a surprise. To help you there are some examples here.


Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start – particularly if you are beginning your creative journey, or feeling stuck for ideas.

If you are stuck for words, you will find some original practical creative exercises in my book for writers: Practical Creative Writing Exercises.

The book is a result of my years spent teaching writers how to get beyond the blank page by using practical exercises.

I have worked with students of all ages so I know that the exercises work.

They do this by stimulating your mindset into that of a writer, triggering your hidden creativity and motivating you to write.

The right exercise can compel you to write the story you not only want to write but need to write. Getting in touch with that need will carry you through to the end.

The exercises are simple and designed to fit in with your life. Whether you have only ten minutes or more, you will find an exercise that motivates you into writing.

Best of luck with your writing.


P.S. I really hope you find the information and exercises I provide on the site helpful. It’s all free for you and all I ask is that you like, share or leave me a comment, or question below. Let me know how you are getting on – I’m always happy to help writers.

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18 Responses to Your Story Themes

  1. Karen Liedel October 2, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    I enjoyed reading about this topic on themes.
    thank you Grace

    • Grace October 8, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      So glad you liked it Karen.
      Best wishes

  2. NELL MOORE November 3, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Thank You, this is really helping me with my problems with writing stories and the difference between Subject and Theme.

    • Grace November 4, 2014 at 10:57 am #

      I am glad to hear that Nell and best of luck with your work.

  3. hHerman December 4, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    Thanks allot… is iy possible for hou to elaborate a bit more on the matter of what a subject is? Even though I uderstand better now, what Theme is..I still do not clearly grasp Subject.

    • Grace December 4, 2014 at 9:16 am #

      Hi Herman
      Don’t worry it is easily confused. The subject of a story is what it is about. For example a story subject could be about two friends who end up on opposite sides of a civil war. The themes are the emotional ideas being explored within the story.
      So in our story the themes are betrayal, fear, etc.
      My advice is to take your favourite book and ask yourself what is the story about. Then look deeper and see what else is being explored beneath the story – look at the emotions and find the themes.

  4. Laurel Leary June 17, 2015 at 1:38 am #

    I find that my recurring subjects are the many hours I spent in the saddle, riding horses in Vero Beach, Fl. The sense of freedom was immense for this young teenage girl. I could not drive a car at 13, but I could travel all over the county, swimming in lakes, breaking trails through forests and seeing lands for the first time. I don’t regret an hour of those simple days. Laurel

    • Grace June 17, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

      Hi Laurel,
      Sounds like you had an exciting childhood with lots of freedom. I wonder if you write adventure stories?
      Best wishes,

  5. Emily Alderdice June 18, 2015 at 2:29 am #

    Hello, Grace!
    Thank you so much for this article, it really cleared things up for me. I’m not an actual author, (although I do enjoy writing) but we are discussing this topic in my classroom at the moment. I have final testing coming up soon, so this really helped! Thanks again!(^ω^)
    Emily A

    • Grace June 20, 2015 at 10:47 am #

      Hi Emily
      I am glad this helped. Best of luck with your final testing.
      All the best

  6. Peter Munyaka June 20, 2015 at 6:34 am #

    Hae,for a long time now i have been having the passion for writting and i have created a story which i feel i should write but i don’t know to systematically arrrange my themes and potray my subject

    • Grace June 20, 2015 at 10:46 am #

      Hi Peter,
      I would choose my favourite subject and my favourite theme. Then I would do some of the writing exercises (there are many on this site) and see what happens. Sometimes it is better to just start writing and let the ideas come to you.
      Best wishes

      • Adam K August 5, 2015 at 3:44 am #

        You say “just start writing”… Best advice ever. Find something interesting and just go to town. I remember forcing myself to write material I just could not connect with (practicing creative writing through a story I just couldn’t get into, even though I WAS WRITING IT (my wife liked it, so I kept writing it… For awhile)) and wondering why I couldn’t make substantial progress… Each word was a such a chore to produce… Then I found an outlet for communication involving writing and I found my writing skills improving naturally as I was simply “just writing”, and being far less concerned with writing the perfect prose and instead focused purely on trying to communicate the ideas in my head, and naturally finding my skills improving.

        • Grace August 5, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

          Thanks for sharing this Adam – you are right of course, and I am so glad to hear this worked for you.
          Best of luck with your continued writing.

  7. Ingrid March 3, 2016 at 6:55 am #

    A very helpful explanation clarifying theme and subject – thank you

    • Grace March 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

      Glad to hear it – best wishes,

  8. Julie (Mayerson) Brown March 27, 2017 at 11:09 pm #

    Stumbled upon your site while researching themes . . . good stuff here – thank you! Best of luck to you, Grace.

    • Grace March 28, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

      Hi Julie
      Thanks for commenting. I am so glad this helped you.
      Best wishes

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