Fiction That Wows: Theme Vs. Plot
Some writers, in particular newbies to the writing/publishing world, tend to confuse “theme” and “plot” when writing their short stories, novels, or series. Some writers use the terms interchangeably, which is in err.
So, what exactly are these two important entities that every clever writer uses effectively in his/her writing? How does an author incorporate the two to make a fiction piece that wows?
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines theme as: “a recurring, unifying subject or idea.” It defines plot as: “the plan of action of a play, short story, poem, or novel.”
Now, did you catch the two key words that really define “theme” and “plot?”
Very simply defined, theme = IDEA. Plot = ACTION.
When incorporating your theme, think IDEA. The theme is the philosophy, the moral background, or the religious belief behind your story. A theme is not stated with words anywhere in your writing, except possibly in your proposal to an editor. Your reader should never see a sentence in your novel that says something like this: “The theme of this novel is ‘Be sure your sin will find you out.’” The theme is a “hidden” or underlying message that the reader will sense in your writing and embrace or reject when he gets to the last page.
Let’s look at a few examples of “theme” and “plot” to clarify their definitions and role in the writing of a novel.
Examples of “Theme:”
(There are dozens, if not hundreds, of themes you can embrace. The theme will evolve from your own personal view of life)
- Forgiveness is possible
- The love of money is the root of all evil
- Persistence pays off
- Unconditional love
- Loyalty to family and friends
Examples of “Plot:”
(Every book has a different plot; thus, there are zillions of plot ideas)
- A boy and dog are separated, but the dog finds his way back to the boy.
- A foster girl who hates everyone and herself is sent by the court to live with Christian parents who have a special needs horse ranch
- A large book store owner forces a small book store owner out of business
- When a man, his wife, and daughter agree to move in with an elderly woman and become her housekeepers, they discover shocking secrets from her past.
- A woman wins twenty million dollars in the lottery but gambles it away and loses everything, even her home and car, in three months.
There you have a very simple sampling of what “theme” and “plot” are all about. As an exercise to stretch your theme/plot brain cells, take the two lists I’ve given you. For the themes, write a one-to-two-sentence plot for each. Remember to include action. For the list of plots, write matching themes, and remember to portray “ideas,” not action in the themes.
Let’s see how you do working with these two writing entities. Get a good handle on the definitions and use of these two words, and you’ll improve your writing in leaps and bounds. (Underlying theme in my last paragraph = “persistence in learning pays off.”)
Next time, we’ll discuss some tips in writing your first draft. What should you do? What shouldn’t you do?