I once read that if you can’t state the theme of your writing in one short sentence, your story has serious problems. So, I’m looking over my writing and asking myself, “What’s the Big Idea?”
What is the basic theme to what we write? Is it “Be yourself?” That’s certainly common enough in children’s literature. Is it “Everyone deserves a second chance?” Or is it “Anything worth having is worth fighting for?” Or maybe even “Love is blind?”
A theme can strengthen our writing in two important ways: first, it helps to focus the plot, and second, it gives our story added depth.
Fiction is a place where broad ranges of experience can be brought down to the individual level. In the end, that is what readers care about anyway—the struggles, experiences and growth of the individual. Fictional writing is a place to explore what it means to be human.
Most of our writing has a theme, even if we didn’t do it intentionally. Taking the time to recognize those themes and then build on them throughout the plot will transform our writing from a “fun story” to something that has universal and lasting meaning.
Deborah Perlburg gives us three questions to help us dig deeper and find the big idea.
1-What is the overall point of my story?
2-What do my main characters learn?
3-How do my main characters change at the end of their journey?
Don’t worry if your theme sounds the same as so many others. That’s the beauty of universal concepts; they can “generate countless different plots and stories.”
Stories that make good use of a theme linger in my mind for days after I’ve finished the book. When I read books that have won awards, such as the Newbery, I find that these are the authors who have taken a universal idea and brought it down to the individual level in a masterful and meaningful way.
We can take our writing up a notch by using themes as a foundation to give our stories added strength.