But What Does It All Mean?

Use of theme in creative writing:Seven Deadly Sins Theme Question> Gluttony is Good? Gluttony is Bad? (particularly cupcake gluttony).

Theme is the main idea behind a story/poem/song. It is often a universal idea or philosophy. Think of Aesop’s Fables (The Tortoise and the Hare, The Boy Who Cried Wolf). On one level the stories are simple tales that amuse children but they also carry a second, deeper message – a universal truth. This moral is the theme. Such themes are often relevant to everyone, everywhere, in every language, in every culture.

For your writing to be considered ‘art’ you ought to have a theme. Therefore, as well as writing a story whereby Joe wants Natalie, Joe gets Natalie, Joe loses Natalie – you include an underlying message like: “jealousy kills love’.

As you write your story, don’t lose sight of your theme. Some writers use the theme as their title (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). Though this is not common, nor encouraged, using your theme as a provisional title on your Work In Progress might keep you focused on your message as you are writing. It is also possible that your theme  may become a tagline or catchphrase associated with your story, like “Greed is good” for Wallstreet (albeit in contrary form).

Examples: your theme could be a comment on the role that luck plays in a person’s life, or your belief that all beings are interconnected. Moralistic writers might warn against the seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. Alternatively, a writer may want to say such indulgences make the world go around. Whatever your theme is, it is your “message” or “philosophy” and ought to be consistently evident in your story.

Once you have found your theme, a way of reminding the reader of its centrality to your story is to place symbolic “motifs” throughout your work. That is to say, if your theme is jealousy, and a widely known symbol of jealousy is “green eyes” – you could give your character green eyes and/or have him own a green eyed statue that unnerves him. You might also have a lot of “green” in your story. Thus, green becomes your story’s “motif” and will help to create a sense of unity in the piece.

Pride is Good? Pride is Bad? What’s Your Take?

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About suehealy

Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by Arts Council England, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, the Heinrich Boll Association and Waterford Corporation/Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Her short play ‘The Dog in the Tree House‘ won the 2017 Claremorris Fringe Award. In 2016, her debut stage production, ‘Brazen Strap’ showed at the King’s Head Theatre. She was a finalist for the 2016 Eamon Keane Playwriting Prize, the 2016 Nick Darke Award and the 2016 Old Vic 12. In 2017, her work shows at the Hackney Attic (January) and the Etcetra Theatre (April). Sue’s nine radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4,WLRfm, KCLR96fm. She has also won the Sussex Playwrights’ Award, presented in the Festival of Contemporary European Drama and has had staged readings of her work in London, Norwich, Brighton and Cornwall. A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, Sue’s prose won seven national prizes: the Molly Keane Memorial Award, BBC Opening Lines, Escalator Prize and HiSSAC Award. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. Presently, she is London-based, researching a PhD on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is Deputy Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

5 responses to “But What Does It All Mean?

  • sueannbowlingauthor

    “What responsibility goes with exceptional ability?” That’s the theme of Homecoming (and Tourist Trap could be “vengeance does more harm to the person doing the avenging than to the target.) I’ve put the first on the bookmark I made for Homecoming.

  • NK

    I really like the idea of using the theme as the working title simply to keep focused. You offered similar advice when talking about the blurb and I really liked that, too. I’m really enjoying reading your blog.

  • theycallmemoseley

    I think this is good. I like having a theme but struggle to get it into my written work with out making it obvious. Choosing something like a colour or a characteristic of objects, setting, other characters seems like a good way to do tht. Use of “motifs”. Thanks for post.

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