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.
WHAT IS A THEME?
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.
DECIDING ON YOUR STORY THEMES
Some people start writing by deciding on a theme, others begin with a character, or maybe a loose idea for a story.
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.
WHAT IS YOUR THEME?
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.
ARE YOU COMPELLED?
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.
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.
THE DARK PLACE
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.
NEED HELP GETTING STARTED?
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.