While equally as important as genre, themes are somewhat different. As I stated in a previous article, genre is the category a story falls into. Themes are universal ideas, morals, or ideals that should be what your story is about. Usually this is carried by the B story, but comes into play at the end of the main story where the hero applies the lesson he has learned at the climax, finale, or showdown. The theme is the moral of the story or the lesson you want your audience to take with them. It can be stated outright or hidden in subtext, but it has to be there. It is the reason the story exists. Generally the theme is stated somewhere in the beginning, but our hero either doesn’t get it or doesn’t believe it. The main part of the story is the hero learning that the theme is in fact true, and the end would be the hero applying the theme to his own situation in order to get a happy ending. In true literary fashion however, variations of this basic premise exist. You can disprove the theme, you can show the theme is true by giving the hero a bad ending, etc. The list is virtually endless.

As you can see it is important for the author to know the theme if not when he first begins writing, then at least early on. It has a huge impact on how the rest of the story will go. There are times when you will get stuck and not know what the theme is. It happens to me all the time. In my head I know how the story should go, but until I have the theme down it is just so much fluff. It’s like talking just to hear your own voice. So here is a short list of some common themes found in literature. I hope this will help you find or create your own theme in the stories you write.

  • Crime doesn’t pay
  • Family is the most important thing
  • Love is the most important thing/Love conquers all
  • Honesty is the best policy
  • Pride goes before a fall
  • Money talks
  • Perseverance wins out
  • Do unto others what you would have done unto you
  • To conquer others you must first conquer yourself
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
  • Time heals all pain
  • A fool and his money are soon parted
  • Love is blind
  • The grass is always greener on the other side

This proverbs and sayings may seem cliché (I know they did to me at first), however reread your favorite book or watch your favorite movies and see if you can’t find one or more of these cliché themes in them. There are plenty of others of course. I have several websites about sayings and proverbs bookmarked for just this reason. To help me find my theme. Remember that just because the theme is cliche doesn’t mean your story has to be.