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theme

Theme: Does a Story Have to Have a Moral?

Most of us have read Aesop’s fables in our childhood. The four Gospels have their own share of parables. These are just examples of stories that teach a moral lesson about what’s right and wrong.

And it’s effective to the readers because the stories will remind them of those lessons.

While fables and parables are rich with these moral lessons, other forms of fiction convey these in different ways.

Generally, fiction writing don’t rely on moral lessons. Instead, they inject these lessons as a commentary or insights about human experience through the characters and plots. And they are not just lessons, it is more of underlying meanings.

Because most fiction have more characters and subplots, it is common that there are more than one theme running. This makes for a more complex and engaging read.

In fact, readers need not state the story’s theme explicitly. For them, the theme will enrich the reading experience and encourage them to think about the human experience in different and specific ways.

As authors, we don’t need to state the theme overtly. This will make the story too preachy. But if the theme is not strong enough, the story will feel pointless.

Most of the time, authors don’t think of the theme as they set out to write. They focus more on the individual characters and actions and then the theme emerges from those.

For both authors and readers, the story’s meaning doesn’t always come out clearly on the first try. In order for us to identify the theme, it is better to ask ourselves these questions:

  • What is the story all about?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What and why is it important about telling it now?

The theme is best implied, running as an undercurrent beneath the characters and actions. It should come through the action and dialogue rather than forcing or telling the reader what to think.