How to Engage your Readers with a Theme

them is the heart and soul of your story

A Compelling Theme Produces an Inner Richness to Your Story.

I know, you say, I am writing a murder mystery, I don’t need a theme.

Guess What? Every story needs a theme, a moral premise, if it is to be memorable.

From ancient times stories have been told and retold about virtuous heroes and heroines. Audiences have not changed. Think about the ancient tales that are still told today Aesop’s Fables and Greek myths, all have morals. In more recent years, Dickens’s, A Christmas Carol and C. S. Lewis’s, Narnia. In modern times Star Wars and Harry Potter.

The best loved stories have a moral premise.

While the plot engages your audience intellectually, the theme engages your audience emotionally.

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When you first lay out your story, consider what your theme will be.

The theme is the overall life lesson, the moral, of your novel, play, or short story.

It is the struggle your characters face trying to maintain their personal values.

Consider your character’s profound yearnings. What motivates them? You want to create characters with an overpowering fever of hope,an unquenchable desire to:

  • Seek the truth                                        Improve the environment
  • Have a family                                        Defend the poor
  • Promote a patriotic cause                   Save the world
  • Loyalty and friendship                        Have compassion
  • Protect others                                        Has a spiritual awakening
  • Believe it or not. It is the emotional connections that engages your readers.

Let your characters be motivated by a philosophy you are passionate about. Instill your characters with principles. Create a storyline which allows them to hold fast to those values with courage and perseverance. The greater the obstacles and the more steadfast your characters, the stronger your theme. Develop a theme with narrative and images capable of arousing your readers emotionally.


Moral theme

A Theme Creates a Memorable Story


Whether you are writing a mystery, fantasy, romance, or science fiction, to create a really memorable story, you need a Moral. Something of profound depth and vivid significance to you. A great theme should make your readers ponder your story outside of their desire to find out what is going to happen to your characters.

Your readers will gain insights about their own lives as your characters find answers to their moral dilemmas.

The theme must be a truth about life, love or people based on observations you, the writer, have discovered. As a writer, you want to present a clear examination of human foibles. How your characters overcomes their own weaknesses or the character flaws in others that will make your message work.

The theme should be conveyed in dialog or action, not in exposition. Readers don’t want to be preached to.


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Consider a Theme Before You Write

We did not understand the importance of a theme when we first wrote. we had to go back and add a theme to each book.

So, before you begin to write, consider what message (theme) you want the reader to gain from your story. Weave the message throughout the story in different ways. The better your theme is incorporated into the story, the more successful you will be as a writer.


Will your message echo in the reader’s memory long after they put the book down? Does it impact the soul?

For your reader to have an intimate experience with your story, it must press upon their minds and arrest their senses.

Have your characters intimately involved with the life lesson we call your theme. As the inhabitants of your fiction evolve, your readers will gain insights about their own lives. When your characters discover answers to their life questions, the reader will join in their own journey of self-discovery. You want your readers to glen some valuable lesson from your character’s struggles.

Try to create moments of private reflection for both your characters and your readers.


Finding your Theme in a Finished Story

If you don’t know what your theme is, try writing an essay about the undercurrent in the story. Explore your novel as a literary work. Ponder what principles your characters have struggled with, what valuable lesson have they learned.  Once you have discovered a thematic element, go back and weave it boldly into your story.  Use characters, symbols, and vivid images to contribute to your theme. Revise your story with the emotional elements you have discovered.

Yes, you need a theme if you want to create a haunting novel. One well remembered and well loved.

A story that will cast a lasting spell on your readers, and make them anxious to read your next book.


For more information about moral premise check out


Happy Writing!

John & Patty

What kind of theme do you think is most appealing to readers?

Do you agree that stories need themes?


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