A strong theme is the reason we write a story. It is what a story is really about, the essence we most want to communicate. The theme contains the moral core of the tale—it shapes each narrative event that occurs in the story.
A theme is often associated with a specific age group, although at its heart a theme can appeal to any audience depending on how it shapes narrative events.
William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, about boys stranded on an island who revert to tribalism appeals across the board. In some ways this theme has much in common with Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, which shows that left unchecked, men may descend into irrationality, cruelty and barbarity. What differs is how the theme renders each story.
In her book, Advanced Screenwriting, Dr. Linda Seger breaks down age groups into the following categories: childhood, teen years, young adult, twenties to forties, fifties through eighties, old age, and end-of-life. Let’s take a look at themes associated with childhood.
“At the core of every story about children is a strong theme of self-esteem, trust, and a sense of belonging. Home Alone, War Games, and E.T. are good examples of this.”
A child embarks on a journey which gradually builds up her self-confidence, resulting in a sense of belonging and self-esteem. This growth is typically achieved by overcoming obstacles strewn in the child’s path by teachers, parents, bullies.
The child can deal with these problems in two ways – she can blame herself, become introverted, lose confidence, and grow depressed, or she can project the problem onto others and become rebellious and delinquent. This can effect the child’s family and friends, drawing them into her problems.
Typically, in an upbeat ending, the child gradually overcomes these obstacles by engaging in purposeful action driven by sustained effort, ingenuity, and courage. The catalyst is usually some meaningful event from the backstory which surfaces at the appropriate moment to help her reverse direction.
Although themes are universal, they are rendered differently for different audiences through the narrative events they express.