Incorporating Theme through Your Characters
The theme is the heart of your story and what gives it deeper meaning and resonance. This is what separates a mediocre story from ones that stay with you long after you put the book down. We can all remember the stories that resonated with us and really made a connection. Theme is at the center of that. And theme is an integral part of your story. So how do we figure out our theme and how do we do it justice? By connecting it to our characters. Let’s look at how.
Character goals are what drive your story forward, and the inner conflict between what a character wants and what a character needs is where the theme resides. Your character should inhabit the theme and through their character arc, the theme is exposed. Theme and character should be connected at the hip. It should shape their personalities and their actions. Their struggles and victories should all reveal the theme. In my WiP, the theme is believing in yourself, which is what my protagonist struggles with. She must believe in herself before she has proof that she can believe in herself. Every struggle she makes and every win brings it back to the theme; that she should believe in herself and follow her heart.
Supporting characters are also good avenues to explore the different aspects of the theme. If the protagonist is dealing with believing in herself, another character might struggle with arrogance or the downside of believing in yourself. Another character might have a hard time believing in those around him. Supporting characters also work well as foils for the main characters. By highlighting these different aspects of the theme, you can deepen the theme’s meaning and add complexity to your story. Look at the similarities and differences between your characters and how they change and grow in their arcs. What each character learns speaks to the theme and their actions arise out of the theme. They’re intertwined. In my WiP, another main character struggles with the fact that he isn’t angelborn like the others and is therefore devalued by some. This is a different look at the theme that the protagonist tries to combat his negative view of himself as she struggles with her own doubts. Also, the antagonists all deal with arrogance as opposed to self-doubt or confidence. And the main antagonist’s goal is to subjugate the protagonist, the opposite of her coming into her own. This is where plot arises out of the theme. Your characters drive the action forward and it is built from the theme.
The plot should also work through the theme since the characters act upon their story goal and their needs. Internal and external plot should reveal the theme and make connections between the theme and the characters. This leads to growth in the character arc as they finally intersect with the theme.
Theme and your characters and the plot should all be intertwined. This is how you incorporate a solid theme through your characters. What story’s theme do you remember most? Comment below and happy writing.