My brilliant colleague and friend Anne Ursu described theme this way in a lecture she gave at Hamline University in July of 2018:
“As you’re writing your draft, you are engaging with ideas, even if you don’t know it. Your mind puzzles at these things and leaves you clues. Funny things happen when you write a book. Your characters pick their interests and their words, you scatter some nice imagery and pretty set decoration, and as you are writing, a grand tapestry is weaved. You don’t tell your story what it’s about, but your story tells you. Our stories sneak up behind us and whisper, This is what I am talking about. Your job is to get quiet enough to listen.”
Sometimes we begin a project thinking we know what we’re writing about but it turns out that the story has something else in store for us. I thought for years I was writing a story of romantic love only to find that it was actually about siblinghood. Once I finally realized it, the path forward emerged.
If you haven’t given a single thought to theme before this point, that is absolutely fine. You’ll find that you have themes in your story in spite of yourself.
So, I am going to ask you this, on the eve of our last day:
Take away all of the specifics. Take away the plot. At its essence, what is your story about?