Genre & Theme
3 min read

Understanding the controlling idea/theme of your story

An image of a cosy reading corner

Welcome, fellow scribes! This article dives into one of the most nebulous yet crucial storytelling components: the theme, or as some like to call it, the controlling idea. It's a bit like the yeast in your home-baked bread – it's not the star of the show, but without it, your bread just isn't going to rise. Or rather, your story isn't going to have that depth and resonance we all crave.

What's in a theme?

First things first, what exactly is a theme? If your story were a pizza, the theme would be the tomato sauce. The base flavour ties all the other toppings (characters, plot, setting, etc.) together. In simple terms, a theme is the underlying message or central idea that runs throughout your story. The heart of your narrative speaks to readers on a deeper level.

Themes can be as diverse as life itself – love, death, betrayal, sacrifice, good vs evil, coming of age – the list goes on. Remember, your theme isn't a single word. It's a statement, a complete thought. For example, if your theme is about love, the theme itself could be 'Love can overcome great obstacles'.

How do I find my theme?

Pinning down your theme can be tricky. But don't despair – we've got some tools for you. See this detailed article on '3 questions to help you figure out your theme'.

Can I have more than one theme?

Life isn't one-dimensional, and neither should your stories be. Including multiple themes in your story is perfectly acceptable, and sometimes even necessary. For a deep dive into this, check out this article on '3 ways to include multiple themes in your story'.

What about symbols and motifs?

Ah, good question! Symbols and motifs are like the secret agents of your story, working undercover to reinforce your theme. For example, a recurring symbol of a storm could represent the conflict in your protagonist's life. We explore this exciting topic in the article 'Symbols and motifs in a story'.

What's the connection between theme and mood?

The theme is like your story's brain, guiding your characters' actions and growth. The mood, on the other hand, is the heart, pumping emotion through every scene. The two work hand in hand to create a compelling narrative. For a more in-depth exploration, see our article 'How theme and mood work together'.

Wrapping up – or should we say, 'The Last Page'?

Understanding your story's controlling idea or theme is like discovering the secret sauce to a memorable narrative. It gives your story depth, connects with readers, and ultimately makes your tale worth telling. So, dig deep, explore your theme, and let it guide your storytelling.