Hammering Home the Theme

The theme of a story is usually the deeper message that the story wants the audience to feel. A theme isn’t necessary, but it can make your story richer and more engaging. Here’s how to introduce your theme in gradual bite-size chunks.

The first goal of your story should be to entertain your audience. If you can entertain your audience, you don’t need anything else. However, to make sure you entertain your audience, you may want to consider the theme of your story.

Your story should be more than just mindless car crashes and helicopter explosions. Your story’s theme basically gives every scene of your story something to emphasize to create a unified story. The way to handle your story’s theme is to first identify a message that you want to deliver, then focus on emphasizing this theme three times.

The first time you mention your theme might be at the beginning of Act IIa as your hero enters a new world and starts learning something new.

The second time you mention your theme is somewhere in the middle to remind your audience.

The third and last time you mention your theme is near the end to hammer home your theme one last time.

In “Star Wars,” Luke has just escaped from his dull planet by taking off with Hans. Obi-wan teaches him about the Force.

Later as Obi-wan is battling Darth Vader, he talks about the Force once more.

Finally as Luke is hurtling to the final confrontation with the Death Star and Darth Vader, Obi-wan urges Luke to use the Force once more and this allows Luke to blow up the Death Star.

This repetition in threes (or more) occurs in “Terminator 2” as well. When the good Terminator rescues John Connor, he almost kills a guy on the street to project John Connor. That’s when John Connor tells the good Terminator that he can’t go around killing people.

Next, John Connor and the good Terminator are on their way to rescue Sarah Connor. As they drive up to the guard station at the entrance, the good Terminator shoots the guard in the leg and casually says, “He’ll live.”

Finally at the end of the movie when the good Terminator sacrifices himself, we hear Sarah Connor repeating the theme about how if a machine can learn the value of a human life, then so can we.

This repetition of the theme at least three times helps keep it in the audience’s mind. The first time you mention the theme, the audience hears it and forgets it. The second time you mention the theme, the audience remembers where they heard it the first time. The third time you use the theme to define the ending of your story, the audience finally understands the significance of your story.

Think of “Thelma and Louise.” Near the beginning, Thelma wants to dance in a bar just to have fun for a change. Later when Thelma and Louise are in the motel, Thelma is having fun with the hitchhiker while Louise is having fun with her boyfriend. Finally when Thelma and Louise are being cornered, they say how free they suddenly feel. This sense of freedom gives them the courage to defy the police and drive over the cliff, essentially winning their battle.

Your theme is what drives and focuses your story, unseen by your audience. However, as the writer, you need to know your theme to guide your entire story. Just remember to repeat it multiple times and use your theme to help your hero win against the villain in the end.

By using a theme, your action won’t seem mindless and random because there will be a deeper purpose behind it.

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