Every writer comes to their story in a different way. Some people approach it with a basic concept, others with a character, some with a first line or a snippet of dialogue. There are as many ways to get a story idea as there are writers and everyone has their own process. However, there are also some super important aspects of writing that every writer must build upon (character arcs, pacing, plotting, dialogue, etc, etc, ad nauseum). Today, I want to look at one of the biggies: Theme.
Right then. Let's start at the top. What is theme?
Theme is the central topic of your book. In the largest sense, it is what readers will think your book is about. It is what the book is saying about the subject it talks about.
Let's look at a few famous examples:
We'll start with the Hunger Games. One of the central themes in this book is sacrifice and the consequences. This starts right off the bat with Katniss sacrificing for her sister and as a result ending up in the Hunger Games. There is also the theme of corrupt power and the effect it has on society - President Snow keeps the poor masses under an iron rule, poor and defeated, but the wealthy flourish (though they are equally held prisoner by their false and politically dangerous world). These are but two of the major themes explored in this book. Then we have the power of love - how anything can be achieved by love: Katniss winning the Hunger Games to get back to her family, despite the huge odds stacked against her and how she saves Peeta at the end of the games.
Next we have the Divergent series. A strong theme here is the concept of choice. Tris makes her own choices and doesn't fall into society's expectations. She joins Dauntless, her brother joins Erudite. The book also looks into overcoming fear, showcased by the simulations the Dauntless must endure in order to succeed. Yet another theme is that of segregation, showcased by the different factions created throughout society.
As you can see, themes can be multi-layered and very complex, and often one connects solidly to another. However, in order to write a great book, you need to have at least one core theme. What do you want your book to say? What do you want readers to question?
* Love versus power
* Honor over ambition
* Freedom versus fear
* Prejudice or acceptance
There are hundreds of themes and topics out there that are worth exploring and each story will lend itself to its own.
How does this help you? It will deepen the core of your story and give it something important to say.
If you know the theme of your book at the start, it's going to color your writing and seep through on every page.