Big Bold List of 52 Themes - How to Identify Your Theme
Welcome to week number 5 of the
52 Weeks of 52 Kick Ass Writing Tools
Nina received feedback from the first draft of her screenplay. The feedback went something like this…
“It kind of wandered.”
“It seemed like it lacked focus.”
“First it seemed like it was about one thing, but then it seemed like it was about something else. I didn’t get it.”
Nina came to me ready to rip the whole thing up. She’d spent two years on that damn thing and now she felt like maybe she had re-written it so many times that her story had ridden off the rails.
She asked me what I thought was wrong. “It’s the theme, darlin’. It’s the Theme.”
Creating the strongest theme Possible
Q: What is a theme?
A: The message of your story. It’s truly what you, the writer, want to say to your audience. Themes are important because they travel throughout the story and act as a unifying force (think roller coaster or train tracks).
To start brainstorming what you theme may be - ask yourself:
Why do you want to tell this story? Why is it important for you? For others?
A soggy story is often a story that has two or more competing themes. Pick the one that covers your overall reason for writing your piece.
Sometimes writers struggle with having to know why they are writing what they are writing. And it’s true you can write your first draft – then look back on the piece and reflect on its message. But the chances are the story will require a re-write to make sure you have a strong theme that travels from beginning to end.
Bottom line: Knowing your theme will help you craft a more cohesive story.
If you don’t know your theme you can uncover it by answering the following questions:
- Ending Message
Finding Your Theme Questions
The ending of my story is:______________________________________
The reason for this ending is:____________________________________
The message you can take away from the story is:______________________
The lesson my character learns is:_________________________________
Okay, back to Nina.
Nina’s Story: An American mother and her nineteen year old daughter get kidnapped in a foreign country. They unwittingly lead a failed prison riot and must decide what they are willing to do to secure their freedom.
How Nina answered the Finding Your Theme Questions
The ending of my story is: Mother and daughter decide to make a run from the prison camp. They know they might die. They run anyway.
The reason for this ending is: The heart of the story is about the love of mother and daughter.
The message you can take away from the story is:
Initially Nina had a few answers to this question. She had to select the one she most wanted to focus on. Here are the four she had to choose from.
- Freedom is everything.
- Family is everything.
- The present moment is all we have.
- There is power in numbers.
The reason Nina’s story went all over the place was because sometimes she was focusing on one theme - and sometimes another. When she selected the theme “Family is Everything” - her story became much more clear. She went back to her outline and made sure that every major plot point now related back to this theme - to mother and daughter - to healing their relationship, to knowing above all else that they are family, to committing to that love. After she knew this theme - she was ready to answer the final question.
The lesson my character learns is: There is nothing more important in the world than your family. (Family is everything.)
Knowing this was her overall message placed the story firmly on its tracks and kept it from wandering off. After a re-write with her new theme in place, Nina received quite a bit of praise.
If you are still a little unclear or feel you need some assistance, check out these possible themes to choose from (yes, I’m sure there are a lot more):
THE BIG BOLD LIST OF 52 THEMES
1) Love is stronger than death
2) If you live by the sword - you die by the sword
3) Meaning in life can be found by the circle of life
4) You have to believe in yourself to achieve anything real
5) Trust your own voice - it is stronger than you think
6) Jealousy is a destructive force
7) When men band together they can defeat anything
8) Absolute power corrupts absolutely
9) You have to let go of the shore to reach any new land
10) Crime doesn’t pay
11) War is hell
12) Technology is robbing people of their humanity
13) You have more courage than you may think you have
14) You always know what you need to do to solve your life’s issues, trusting yourself is the real issue
15) Believe in your individual voice
16) Don’t let the light go out in your eyes
17) One brave step, leads to many
18) There is life after loss
19) You have to be your own hero
20) Not all heroes are heroic
21) Sometimes you have to escape the life you have to realize it really was the life you wanted
22) Death is a mystery
23) With death there is an opportunity to be reborn
24) There is an opportunity in every crisis
25) Most journeys lead back home
26) There is a moment in everyone’s life when they come of age
27) Being a patriot means you can question your leaders
28) Hope springs eternal
29) You never know anyone – not really
30) Lust for power will bring a man to his knees
31) Everyone leaves this earth alone
32) Justice is not blind
33) Having it all isn’t all its cracked up to be
34) Family is more important than anything
35) Having faith is a leap
36) Every man struggles with good and evil within
37) Families in today’s world are disintegrating
38) Man is small against mother nature
39) Secrets never remain secrets
40) Total conformity goes against man’s needs to express his/her voice
41) Learned Racism is toxic
42) Suffering is part of the human experience
43) We all lose our innocence
44) You are never too old to reach your dreams
45) The present moment is all we have
46) Freedom is everything
47) Family is everything
48) What comes around goes around
49) Violence begets more violence
50) There is no fate/only freewill
51) Is Artificial Intelligence truly intelligence
52) Is religion honorable or hypocrisy
EXAMPLES OF THEMES:
The Wizard of Oz:
You have the power inside you to grant your deepest wishes - if only you would believe in yourself.
Checkov’s The Seagull:
Humans have the odd (and maybe destructive) tendency to reject love that is freely given yet seek it where it is withheld.
Romeo and Juliet:
The Battle of love and hate. Love has the overwhelming power to teach us how to step beyond our boundaries and limitations. If one lets hate rule – everyone loses.
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