Why Everything In Your Story Must Tie Into Your Theme

Character or plot?  The debate about which one is more important to a story has gone on for a while and will continue to go on for the foreseeable future.  Many valid arguments are made from writers and readers on both sides, with many concluding that the best answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Yet, while character and plot are certainly important to a novel, I’m going to suggest in this article that if you’re only asking yourself if your novel should be character-driven or plot-driven, you’re missing a key element of your story.  It’s like having two legs of a three-legged stool.  With great plot and great characters, you can indeed write a fun story.  But until you have the third missing element, you won’t have a great one.

And that missing element is theme. Tieintotheme

Now, immediately upon reading it, there are going to be some people who are going to wonder why theme is all that important.  Perhaps it’s good to have, but no way is it as central as characters and plot.  After all, if theme is given a large place in a novel, doesn’t the novel simply become preachy and unreadable?  These are the objections that may very well be raised against this thesis.  And to be fair, the latter is a valid concern.

But what I’m going to attempt to show in this article is that theme is an integral part of any novel, and that a failure to develop it is, in the end, a failure to use literature to its true potential.  Characters may endear themselves to us.  Plots may grip us.  But it is theme that teaches us.

Prolegomena: Theme or Message?

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Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.