Themes are the soul of a story. Whether you're writing an original story or fanfiction, the themes that your story explores are the ideas that endure. A theme unites the various fundamental elements of a narrative by providing a core, a basis in which the other elements (character, plot, setting, style, etc.) may be built. Themes represent the most genuine link between the thoughts of the author and the mind of his or her readers.
The theme of a work of fiction is the central idea that the work explores.
Theme differs from Subject. A subject is the topic about which you write (e.g. 19th Century London Socialites). A theme is the opinion expressed about the topic (e.g. decadence, greed, or betrayal). There are two parts of theme: i. Thematic Concept is what your readers understand the work to be about and can often be expressed in a single word or short phrase (e.g. Love); and ii.Thematic Statement is what the work says about the concept and is often expressed with a sentence (e.g. "Unconditional love can overcome the trials and tribulations of a turbulent life," or "Destructive love inevitably leads to its own destruction.") Alone, a Thematic Concept cannot stand as a theme, while a Thematic Statement will because it incorporates the concept within it.
Longer narrative works tend to have more than one theme. These themes are considered either Major or Minor based on their prevalence in the narrative. A major theme is one that frequents much of the work; they represent the most significant ideas of the narrative. A minor theme is one that appears only a couple of times.
You better have something to say! A theme is an argument. It comes from the same word origin as thesis for a reason, tithenai - from Greek, meaning "proposition." So be ready to show that "love eventually leads to pain" if that is your major theme. But how do you do that? How is Theme expressed? Theme alone is abstract. As an author, your job, my job, Neil Gaiman's job, and Anne Rice's job is to express theme in a concrete way. I know what you're thinking: Great! Thanks that clears the issue up completely. There's more. Don't freak out.
It's important to recognize that no fundamental element in a narrative has but one function. When we are writing at our best, each element of a narrative serves to reinforce the others. In this way, theme has a highly symbiotic relationship with other narrative elements. The theme is expressed in the actions, dialogue, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the characters. It is formed by their experiences. It is shown through the use of motif, imagery, metaphor, symbolism, parallelism, and juxtaposition. Anything you write can be used to support your theme and although not everything you write has to support your theme, nothing should ever argue against it. Everything at your disposal as a writer can be used to make the abstract idea into something concrete. Consider characterization as an abstract concept made up of a character's traits. One uses concrete evidence to prove an abstract trait. For instance to show that a character is deceitful or a liar, an author might use dialogue and actions by having the character say something and do the opposite. This is the same way in which theme is communicated to your readers.
Themes In Fanfiction
Where do we get our themes when we write fanfiction? Do they come from the source material or do they come from us? If you analyse any good piece of fanfiction, the answer is both.
As fans of a show or a book or a movie, we identify with some element of the original material. We see some part of ourselves in the work. Even when the themes with which we identify are minor within the context of the show, we latch onto them. These are the themes we express when we write fanfiction. My fanfiction has been based on Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity 'Verse. I am drawn to his themes of antiauthoritarianism, female empowerment, being an outcast, and finding a family. In my fanfiction these are the themes I write about. The themes that you connect to as a fan are the themes you write as a fanfiction author.
Even when you agree with the themes expressed in the original source work, you're going to insert your own themes as well. Most of the time these themes come about unexpectedly. You're in love with a show (say, Doctor Who) and you've got a great idea to expand or explain a part of the show. You decide to write fanfiction and while the themes of the show carry over into your work, there's something new. It's you.
Organic Themes are unearthed as you write. For all its planning and choices, writing can often have unexpected moments. Sometimes when you've planned every detail, you still colour outside the lines. Writing is a craft that takes a part of its creator to be convincing. Whenever we write, we are writing what is on our minds and in our hearts. We put it on the page and we see that our attitudes and our ideas not only occupy the text but clutter the subtext as well.
Themes bring out our passions. When we read we are alienated by themes we find disagreeable and we feel acceptance from those we hold as truths. We read fiction and find the truth hidden beneath the fantasy. Themes connect to our emotions - we empathize with lonesomeness and combating it through enduring friendships; we feel the thrill and empowerment as Buffy Summers doesn't become the blonde teenage girl killed by a monster in the alleyway but instead the monster's biggest nightmare, and we understand a character's desperation to find acceptance.
Themes are abstract ideas expressed in concrete ways to bind a narrative and trigger emotions. As writers we craft stories with themes to give our work value beyond the page, greater than sum of its plots, characters, settings, and images, to give a soul to our creations, to show, to tell, to write with value, keeping our pursuit of engaging readers from being a worthless endeavour.
What are your story themes?
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How to Write FanfictionNon-Fiction
How to Write Fanfiction is a writing resource that contains tips and tricks on crafting fanfiction stories - by the community, for the community. This guide will serve as a helpful point of reference for fanfiction writers both old and new. We ultim...