The Theme of a Novel

The theme of a novel is the major issue that underlies the story, and is the lesson or message that it conveys. It is one of the most important factors to think about when planning and writing a work of fiction. When you studied literature at school, the theme of a novel was always an important point for discussion. Now that you’re a writer, don’t forget to give your own story’s theme the same careful consideration.

Defining the theme of a novel

The theme music of a movie is the tune that is usually played during the opening credits and recurs frequently as the story unfolds. The most memorable ones are highly evocative of the subject matter.

The theme of a story is its deeper meaning, and can also be thought of as the moral of a story. But that doesn’t mean that it’s your job to teach your reader a lesson. Instead, your theme should be conveyed with subtlety and show us an aspect of the human condition.

Try to identify the theme in some of your favourite novels, especially in the genres you have chosen for your own writing.

Some examples

Let’s look at some concrete examples.

A romance or love story might have as its theme the importance of choosing a partner with a good character, the tragedy of unrequited love, or letting your heart rule your head in order to find happiness. It might even be about the pointlessness of human existence.

Here are ten examples of a theme suitable for a novel:

  • Every human life is valuable
  • Power corrupts everyone
  • Finding the courage to deal with issues in our life
  • Love is stronger than hate
  • How to deal with death
  • Greed leads to destruction
  • Crime doesn’t pay
  • Overcoming your fears and limitations
  • Finding justice
  • How to overcome tragedy
  • Death rules our entire existence

There are thousands of other possible topics. Think of some themes that you would like to write about, and a storyline that might suit them.

Develop the theme of your novel

Your characters, plot and settings are the outward manifestations of the story. The theme is the deeper meaning that lies beneath the surface. You can approach developing and incorporating your theme in one of three ways.

  1. First, you can decide on the basic elements of character, plot and setting. Choose the theme, and then have another look at your storyline. From the first page to the last, your novel should reflect that theme.
  2. The second approach is to decide on a theme and then create your characters, plot and settings. That is a good way to keep it as a pivotal element of your story, leading the way right from the start.
  3. The third method is a combination of both: keeping it central to your thinking from the beginning, but also allowing a free flow of thoughts about your characters and plot. You might decide, at that early stage, that your theme needs changing or modification.

Layer your theme into your novel

Be sure that the main plot of your story directly reflects the theme that you have chosen. Weave in various subplots that reflect both positive and negative aspects of the theme. That will create a well rounded and satisfying story that actually shines the light on humanity.

Decide on the theme of your novel, prepare your story outline and take on the challenge of writing a novel that has a clear message to convey.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “The Theme of a Novel

  1. sizzlesue15

    Hi Toni such valuable information here for budding authors. I would like to write a non-fiction book, rather than a novel but haven’t known where to start. I’m sure some of these tips are transferable.


    1. Toni Pike Post author

      Thanks, Sue – I’m glad you found the information useful. Your blog articles are so inspiring and practical – I’m sure you’ll have no trouble converting that information into a great book.



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