Five Tips for a Thematic Story

In the previous post, I talked about writing with subtexts and allusions. But how does one start weaving in subtle imagery and themes? I have a few ideas.

  1. Take it like a murder mystery! Think about ways you could link together ideas that occur at the beginning of your story and the end or throughout. This could be spotting what patterns you have already formed in your writing and expanding on that. The main difference between the murder mystery and the theme is that you don’t have to wind up the loose ends of your theme and ideas can be drafted in and out without much plot-effect.
  2. Use your characters for inspiration. Does one character have an endless supply of insults against the sunset? Do they have a foil who champions light? Use the characters you already have to convey theme and idea through their dialogue, inner monologues and actions. In this example, it could be something as simple as the general concept of light throughout or you could go as far as the perpetual battle between good and evil if you wished.

    The subtext under the bed...
    The subtext under the bed…
  3. It doesn’t have to make sense. Obviously, it has to add an extra layer or element to the novel, but, unless the idea comes from physical objects (eg. Golding’s conch shell), the use of metaphors and secret subtexts are allowed to be a little sneakier than the obvious.
    Bear in mind that this is my opinion. I don’t know what the professionals would think! That having been said, however, it would be nice to keep the theme applicable to the genre, unless incredibly subtle. For thriller Genevra , I could afford to make my narrator metaphors such as ‘there was not even any space to throw a dagger’ because of the short length.
  4. Don’t start with the theme. Don’t let an idea overcome the story. If you have one: great, but remember that a subtext is a special extra, and not necessary for the story’s selling point in the end. If you start with the theme, you might end up with an analogy rather than a story. Good for poems, bad for prose.
  5. Finally: Don’t go overboard. I don’t think there’s a set limit to how much theme you can slip in. As with metaphors, similes and other creative literary imagery, it’s down to the discretion of the author. On the other hand, remember this is entertainment, and no reader wants to be swamped with the pointless.



One thought on “Five Tips for a Thematic Story

  1. I’ve been reading Robert McKee’s “Story” and I think along similar lines of what you’ve been saying here, is you don’t want your symbolism to be screamingly obvious, otherwise it’s less effective. The symbolism should be tucked in subtly enough that some readers won’t get it—although their subconscious might. Nice post.

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