An Emotional Road Map: Stating Your Novel’s Theme

For reasons I’ll clarify in upcoming posts, theme is important to me. I know, many will claim that it’s not about what I’m trying to say as the author that counts. What matters is what the reader takes away from the novel. I don’t know that they can get anything out of it if there’s no there there to begin with. Stating your novel’s theme doesn’t mean that you hit people over the head with it starting on page one. The opening line doesn’t need to be a thesis statement. There should be some groundwork laid early on, though, that will pay off later.

Stating Your Novel’s Theme

Having a literary theme for the book helps me to know where I’m going. Plot is the mechanism; we move from A to B to C. Theme is the heart, the reason why the story has to move that way. Creating some scenes that introduce the thematic arguments allows me to foreshadow larger events that come later. Knowing where the characters stand lets me know how their arcs have to unfold. It’s the emotional road map, counterpoint to the technical beats of the traditional three-act structure.

Let’s take the obvious and heavy-handed theme of good versus evil. If your authorial stance is that good always triumphs over evil, then good characters will eventually win. Evil characters will ultimately and without fail bear the consequences of their evil deeds. Individual characters can have their own views on why good wins, or why they chose to embrace evil instead, creating point to be debated within the story. In the end, though, the reader should understand the point that you’re making. That starts by stating your novel’s theme up front.

Progress Report: Day 3

  • Today is day 3 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 815 words, bringing the total to 3,154.
  • That puts me 1,954 words ahead of my target goal, based on adding 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working out of chronological order on the scenes that introduce important characters. I want to make sure they each reflect the overall theme of the book, in their own ways.


  • For those interested in such things, on my Twitter I’m participating in #TheMerryWriter game.
  • I was equal parts annoyed and amused when someone on Twitter slagged Dickens and Austen, only to turn around and clutch their pearls when someone said they have issues with J.K. Rowling.
  • As much as I’d like to add more affiliate links here, Amazon is so problematic for so many reasons. For now I’ll keep linking to Project Gutenberg for public domain works. You can always find the link to my Ko-Fi at the bottom of the page if you want to support the cause.

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