Savvy Writer Article #1103 By DENISE MILLER HOLMES
Of all the elements of fiction, theme is the one least understood. It feels intangible, and gets easily lost when a writer plots.
But, theme is the very foundation of plot, so if you begin to push your characters around in order to make an exciting plot without regard for theme, you are in danger of losing the cohesiveness of your story.
Simply put, theme is the moral of the story. Your plot must tell a tale that demonstrates that moral or the reader will be confused.
For instance, the theme of the movie The Patriot starring Mel Gibson is you don’t have to be ruthless to fight a war and win. If you check out the plot, it demonstrates this theme from beginning to end.
The film’s opening scene has Benjamin Martin’s voice saying “I have long feared that my sins would return to visit me, and the cost is more than I can bear.” This fear, we find out in the opening sequence, came about because Benjamin fought a previous war ruthlessly. He feels so guilty about it, he is now a pacifist.
But the current war pulls him in. If he is to save his family, he must fight. He begins by fighting with abandon, until his sons confront him and teach him he can fight with honor.
He struggles with this new moral truth. Toward the end, he is tempted to withdraw from the fight. He is filled with anger at the death of his son. He believes that God is punishing him for past ruthlessness and that he must go back to pacifism. But he has a great epiphany…it is good to fight. His son fought. His son fought fairly. He son would want him to fight.
So he takes up arms and joins in the strategic battle against the British, and fights with honor. And thus, he wins the battle. He is a changed man—a man who gave up his flaw to realize a new way.
Does your plot support your theme? Remember, the character flaw, the false belief, the back story, the current inner struggle of your main character, and your plot, must reflect a moral premise. If not, your story isn’t a story, it’s just a plot.