CRAFT: Do You Get the Message?

Craigs' Legacy by Terry CampbellWelcome to the another article in the Craft series, this one by Bobbye Terry, a frequent guest columnist at the Writer’s Fun Zone.


Do You Get the Message?

Theme is one of the main components of fiction. Think of it as the spoke of a wheel around which your main characters revolve. Without it, there is nothing that holds your story together. Even if you are a writer who is a pantser, you should know what your theme is going to be before you start your fictional work. It weaves through the entire story like the thread of an expert seamstress.

Do you still feel shaky about what theme is? Think of these major points:

  • Theme is the main idea, moral or message, often pertaining to the human condition, life as it exists, or society and its strictures.
  • Your characters should either embrace or stray away from the theme during the course of the novel. Their most outstanding personality traits should mesh well or totally grate against it.

Here are some popular themes and this list doesn’t include all that exist:

1.     Good vs. Evil

2.     Man vs. the Power of Nature

3.     Man vs. Societal Pressure

4.     Fate vs. Free Will

5.     Man Struggles to Understand Divinity

6.     Crime Doesn’t Pay

7.     Overcoming Adversity

8.     Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

9.     The Importance of Family

10.  Growing Up and Initiation

11.  Time is the Great Equalizer

12.  Love Conquers All

13.  Death is Part of Life

14.  Sacrifices Bring Reward

15.  Suffering and Redemption

Here are some well-known themes in literature:

The Scarlet Letter-Sin affects all people, Suffering and Redemption

The Grapes of Wrath– Overcoming Adversity and Man vs. Societal Pressure

The Wizard of Oz-There’s no place like home, The Importance of Family

Gone With the Wind-Overcoming Adversity is the all-encompassing theme. There is a secondary theme thread of fighting the inevitable. Remember, Scarlett always wants to think about that tomorrow.

As you can see from the examples of themes from specific literary works, a book can have more than one theme, but one is usually predominant, while the other adds to it, like a secondary plotline.

Here is an example from my own work, Millicent, a long short story bordering on a short novella that will be released in digital format in March as a teaser for my upcoming science fiction novella series, The Cash Chronicles(CC). Though the series is science fiction, Millicent is an historical, because the villainess in the first book of CC is cryogenically frozen in the past and survives in the twenty-second century.

The story starts with Millicent as a seven-year-old cowering in the home’s milk room because her father is on a drunken rampage upstairs. He’s already beaten her brother until he is unconscious. His mother is now being beaten and the girl hears her mother shoot a gun three times. However, she’s a child, never concluding that her father has already killed her brother and now her mother has silenced him forever. The last line of the opening is, “She’d never trust a man again, especially her Papa.” This scene sets up the main theme, the need for security and introduces a secondary one, never trust a man for security. The need for security morphs and grows during the story, into an overwhelming desire for power, the whole concept of absolute power corrupting everything. There is even another theme that plays a secondary note in the story, man vs. societal pressure. William, the hero, is a man without a compass, fighting to have love but not willing to sacrifice his position in society. However, he needs security every bit as much as Millicent, even sacrificing his principles to keep it.

Okay, so you think this story has none of my characteristic humor, but it does. This 13,000-word story also has one main theme and three secondary ones.

Do you have a better feel for how to integrate theme in your book?

I’d love to hear what the theme(s) are in your work-in-progress.


About the Guest Columnist: Bobbye Terry is the muti-published writer of romantic comedy, suspense and fantasy. She also writes under the pseudonyms Daryn Cross and Terry Campbell and has books out or slated for publication through Black Opal Books, Crescent Moon Press, Eternal Press, L&L Dreamspell and Turquoise Morning Press. Her most recent novel release co-written as Terry Campbell is the novel, Craigs’ Legacy, Black Opal Books. Her first mystery novella, Buried in Briny Bay, debuts on March 14. For more information, check out her online headquarters:

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  • Ciara Knight says:

    Great post, Bobbye. Theme is always a tough concept for new writers. Great points. 🙂

  • The theme in my current WIP is overcoming adversity.

  • Bobbye Terry says:

    Thanks Ciara. Great theme,Nicole. It’s a classic and one of my favorites.

  • Caroline Clemmons says:

    You explain things so well. Come back and tell me how to set the DVR, please!

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