Thursday, May 21, 2009


Next Wednesday May 27, as part of her blog tour to promote her newly
released children’s chapter book: The Goanna Island Mystery published
by Aussie School Books, I will be talking with Dale Harcombe right here about the themes that carry the story.

I invite you to join Dale in her journey and discussions of The Goanna Island Mystery on these blogspots:
Mon 25 Dee White at
Tue 26 Sally Murphy at
Wed 27 Mabel Kaplan at [That’s right here!]
Thu 28 Claire Saxby at
Fri 29 Sandy Fussell at

The notion of themes in fiction writing is one I find very interesting. So I question myself, as I will Dale, what do I mean by themes and what role do themes play in a story.
It is easy to underestimate the value of themes - and think of them in the somewhat nebulous way of textbook English as the ‘big ideas’ - and leave them to find their own way in the story. But what if the theme then gets lost in the excitement and action of the plot? A great opportunity is lost! A theme is what underlies and supports the story idea. It is what gives the story the depth that keeps the reader engaged. It is in essence what the characters in the story tell us about the human condition.

What is needed is a strong marriage between character and theme. Rather than a story about courage, the story is about character who demonstrates what being courageous is. It shows the situations in which X finds him/herself behaving in a courageous manner, what motivates him/her. It allows the writer and reader to predict the character's reactions to particular events and how these drive the story.

Imagine a hard working family who become unexpectantly rich when an old aunt dies. A nephew uses his share of the money to help his neighbours; a niece uses her share to gamble for greater riches - and, we have a story driven by the themes of generosity and greed.

The themes keep the story on track and determine what is important to the story and what can be left out. The story becomes less about generosity or greed and more about a character who is generous and a character who is greedy. Thus, the characters, their actions and reactions, and plot will be moved forward by the themes. Behind the excitement of the action and the charisma of the characters, good stories carry a layer which explores what it is to be human.

If next time you sit down with a book, you think about what is at stake for the characters as they face each situation, not only will you have enriched your understanding of the story, but you will have gained insight into the author's view of the human condition

Sorcha Ni Dhomhnaill [] in an article on the Role of Theme in Fiction writes: Theme is usually the particular situation the author wanted to write about that formed the beginning kernel of the story. Nearly every word you read in a story will work in some way to expand the theme, usually without mentioning it explicitly. Some level of ambiguity in the presentation of a theme is preferred because authors do not want fictional situations to read like a philosophical tract or a debate, only to illustrate its consequences on the story and characters.



  1. I'm looking forward to joining you next week Mabel, as part of the blog tour for The Goanna Island Mystery. Should be a lot of fun.

  2. Thanks for this explanation of themes in relation to characters, Mabel. Not just for writers - it will help me in crafting stories for telling.