So you know that your favourite stories explore themes, like Good and Evil, or Poverty and Class. You want your story to operate on this plane as well, but how to do it?

By the end of this article you’ll be a theme-guru, writing plays, novels, and screenplays that deliver on theme. 

Pick Your Theme!

Choose something that activates you, and gives you energy. Something that you actually care about. Do you hate poverty? Check out Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite. Are you most interested in Good versus Evil (Star Wars) or Power and Powerlessness, or Democracy and Fascism.

Are you more interested in the idea of Home, or Love, or Hatred, or Betrayal. Figure out where your fascination lies! 

Brainstorm and Research!

Now see what has been written on your theme in the past. What are the greatest examples exploring the theme of Hatred, for instance? See how others have done this before, and work out how you might be able to contribute. Now start generating ideas! The more the merrier of course.

The greatest challenge here is to come up with ways to dramatise your theme! What are examples of Abuse of Power, for instance? What are the ways we express our Love? 

Write what you Know!

This doesn’t mean you can only recreate your own life in your work of fiction. It means try to dramatise your experiences of life! For instance, if your theme is Love, and you want to explore your experiences of love, then you could take what you know and apply it to a love story set in Ancient Greece, for instance.

Writing from experience in this way ensures greater verisimilitude, or the effect of accurately reflecting the nature of reality in your projects.

This can leader to a greater sense of emotional and intellectual satisfaction in the work, because we feel that we are really learning about the nature of the human experience by engaging with the work.

Use your Protagonist’s Arc to make the Ultimate Comment on your Theme

An Arc is a journey of change. The central way in which the protagonist has changed will often be the ‘moral’ of your story. If this moral is related to your theme, then you’ve done a great job.

For instance, if Star Wars is about Good versus Evil, Luke Skywalker learns in the final moments of the original trilogy that he would rather die than give in and assume the powers of the dark side, in order to save himself and the rebel fleet.

The ultimate comment on Good versus Evil therefore is that it’s better to die than be a nasty Sith Lord aka sacrifice. Work out what the events of your story have taught your protagonist, and make sure it’s all tied in nicely with the theme you’ve chosen!


Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.