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Hey, Theme Guy Here


Okay, I mentor a lot of writers. I mean… a lotta writers: Good ones, bad ones, a few who are way better than I’ll ever be, others who would be better off painting. The following is a series of short posts on some of my observations. Hopefully, my ramblings might help you transform a weak story into something unforgettable.

I read something this morning. It had all the hallmarks of a story: a beginning, middle and an end. It had solid characters, structure, formatting and description. But it lacked what this diatribe lacks… a point. It didn’t have a theme. Theme is one of the least known, least taught and least understood of all the tools in a writer’s toolbox. But without a doubt, the most powerful.

So I asked the writer what he thought the theme was. He started rattling off themes 20 to the dozen. If I hadn’t stopped him, I’m sure there were going to be a couple more in his pocket. Oh, I forgot to mention, this was a short story.

Now, I’ve layered a couple of different themes into some of my screenplays – it’s not like you can’t have multiple themes. But when you teach someone how to juggle, you start by handing them one ball. Once they master juggling one ball, you give them another. You never start by handing a novice three balls. Lazy writers use the excuse of writing multiple themes to explain why they made confusing choices.

If you’re new to theme, pick a lane, stick to it and never exit.

Quick Tip on Identifying Your Theme: What lesson did the protagonist learn at the end of the story? That might be your theme.

Remember, the theme is why women swoon and tough guys cry at the end of the story. Your protagonist is constantly bumping up against the theme. It’s the DNA of every scene in your story. Without it, you have a logical series of well-crafted sentences.

 — Theme Guy out.