Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for THEME

THEME is a central idea. In nonfiction prose it may be thought of as the general topic of discussion, the subject of the discourse-- the thesis. In poetry, fiction and drama it is the abstract concept that is made concrete through representation in person, action, and image. No proper THEME is simply a subject or activity. Both THEME and thesis imply a subject and a predicate of some kind. For example, not vice in general but some such proposition as "Vice seems more interesting than virtue but turns out to be destructive."  "Human wishes" is a topic or subject; the "vanity of human wishes" is a THEME.

When people say "there are no new stories," what they are really saying is that there are no new THEMES. Nearly everything-- every single THEME under the sun-- has been thought of, considered, written about and discussed in some context. It is how you write about your THEME that makes it something remarkable, not the theme itself.


(This post has been inspired by and in some instances, directly quoted from A Handbook to Literature, 8th Edition, by William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman)

17 comments:

  1. I just saw a perfect example of this. I recently read something from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition. The theme sounded similar to a NaNoWriMo novel I wrote several years ago. Some of the characters even had the same names and the title was the same as my working title from my NaNo novel. But it was totally different. The style of writing. The things the writer focused on. It was cool to read.

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  2. It is the theme that speaks to us across the ages, across the continents,

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  3. Yay!! What a great post clarifying the meaning of Theme!! Thank you! take care
    x

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  4. You are spot on here Karen, or Harmon/Holman. It is what we do with the idea/theme that makes a story zing. I must also read your Showing vs Telling.

    Denise<3

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  5. amen. Themes are so important. I have read a few books were I was like "I dont know the point of this." haha.

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  6. Great post and insight on "theme" vs. "story."

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  7. I've also heard this described as "the premise"; the concept you're trying to prove with the story. I try to keep my theme in mind when I'm writing to keep the story focused.

    .......dhole

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  8. Keeping your broader description of THEME in mind would also help a writer add depth to a short story or novel, rather than focusing on the superficial storyline alone.

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  9. Very insightful, thanks for sharing, lovely to be on your blog

    Amanda - Realityarts-Creativity
    Art Blog

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  10. Hadn't recognised the (now obvious!) common origins of Theme and Thesis until I read this. As you say, there's a finite number of original themes. People say the same about jokes - and I guess, in both cases, it's all about the way you tell 'em :-) Thanks for an eye-opening post.

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  11. It's all in our take on the story's theme.

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  12. Great post. I've read a couple of books where I was like HUH? Maybe I just couldn't grasp THEME at the time.

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  13. I like your point about there not being any new themes.

    Hope you are enjoying the easter break

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  14. Thank you. A detailed enough explanation without being overly complicated. I am learning so much from your blog.

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  15. I think it really depends on the type of writing you are going for. In some instances, Theme is a starting point. But in others, I find that Theme can be a secondary consideration. There are so many works out there where two people can read the same book or passage, and come away with totally different ideas of what the book was even ABOUT. I think that the perspective of the reader will inherently influence their take on the theme. I'm sure Shakespeare would be rolling on the ground laughing at some of the Themes that people find in his works.

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  16. Absolutely agree - it's all about the way we chose to tell the theme that is the indvidual part, whether or not the actual theme is similar - e.g. hero setting out on a journey. It's all about the voice!

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  17. ahh, beautiful. Now THIS is the perfect response to the complaint that every story has been told. Good one, Karen! :o) <3

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