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Guest Blog: The Heart of the Story by Kaarima Alzenah


“All the best novels are about one thing: how we go on. The characters must survive the fallout of their cowardice, folly, denial or misguided passion. They squander what matters most, and still, they pick up the pieces” - Julia Glass

A story without a heart is a story without a life; just like a human can’t live without a heart. So, how do you bring your story to life? Give it a heart.


The question now is, “What exactly is the heart of a story?”


The heart of your story is the theme of your story.


So, what is the meaning of a theme?


The theme is the “big idea” the author is trying to convey in his/her story while a story is the internal struggle of a character. It is the internal plot.

A theme can be illustrated by the character’s actions, thoughts, the way they speak. A theme is beneath the surface of the activities described on the page. For your story to have meaning, it has to have a theme.

A theme can sometimes be confused with a moral. A moral is a lesson the author wants the reader to learn while the theme is an idea that the author hopes will mine for a deeper meaning. The difference between the moral of a story and the theme is that moral is a piece of advice while a theme is what the author observes about human nature. A theme is not simply stated and can be arguable. It is not necessary to agree with the theme, the theme allows you to think more about the topic.


Think of it like this: For moral, the story ends in the last full stop of the story but for a theme, the story doesn’t end in the last full stop. A story with a strong theme lives forever.


A theme is stronger when you make it universal.


“A universal theme is an idea that applies to anyone regardless of cultural differences or geographic location.”


Example of universal theme includes order vs chaos, humans vs nature, the pain of love, fate vs free will, the loss of innocence while growing up, facing death, war is necessary sometimes e.t.c.


A universal theme is a type of theme that everyone can relate to.


Ask yourself:

  • What do you want the reader to keep thinking about after reading your novel?

  • What is your theme about? What do you think about the theme? For example, Is your theme about love? What do you think about love? Do you think love is dangerous? Do you think that it is a blessing?

One thing that has helped me in developing my story theme is brain dumping. Write. Keep on writing until when you feel there is nothing to write again. You have to know what you think about the theme before you incorporate it into your novel and most importantly know what you are talking about, the good part and the bad.


HOW TO WEAVE A THEME INTO YOUR STORY

  1. What is your theme about? Write a blurb about the theme

  2. Figure out your character wants

  3. What do you feel about the theme?


What is your theme about?

You don’t need to make your theme so complicated. You all just need to write about themes that readers can relate to.


Five things that make up a story:

  1. Characters

  2. Setting

  3. Plot

  4. Theme

  5. Style

The theme is the most important. It is the element that drives the story forward. A story without a theme isn’t a story at all. The next important is the character, the characters are the ones who drive the theme. Every story has a theme.


The three most important elements in a story are the characters, settings and the theme.


There are two types of story, a plot-driven and a character-driven story.


A plot-driven story is a story that focuses on the plot, what the characters are going through but doesn’t reveal things about the characters. More focus is placed on the obstacles while there is less focus on the rest of the elements and a lesser focus on theme and also take note that the characters take a back seat in this type of story. A plot-driven story might have a theme but very little attention is paid to it. Examples of plot-driven stories, the da-Vinci code, Jurassic park, gone girl e.t.c


A character-driven story is a story that more focus is placed on the character’s development than it is on the plot. It is driven by emotion compared to a plot-driven story. Even if you don’t see a lot of actions in this type of story, there are some great character-driven novels like the invisible life of Addie LaRue, the girl on the train, the kite runner and lots more.

And some novels are both.

  1. What does your character want?

The main reason a reader decides to read a novel is because of the character wants, how they get what they want even when the obstacles make it harder for them. It will be more helpful if you introduce this in the first few chapters. There are also stories where the characters don’t know what they want in the first few chapters but every reader doesn’t love such a story.


Ask yourself:

  • Why does the character want that particular thing?

  • How is she trying to achieve it?

  • Who is stopping her from achieving it?

  • What is standing in her way of happiness?

  • What will happen if she doesn’t get what she wants?

  • What are the consequences of what she wants?


  1. What do you feel about the theme?

You are the writer. There is a saying that “If the writer doesn’t cry, the reader won’t”. So if you don’t feel anything about the novel, your reader won’t. What you feel as the writer of the story is important.


Ask yourself:

  • Do you like the theme you chose?

  • Do you believe in the theme?

  • Are you passionate about this story?

  • Are you ready to go through its ups and downs?

And most importantly, ask yourself if the theme you choose goes along with the story you are writing.


About Kaarima Alzenah

Kaarima Alzenah is a reader, writer, book reviewer, website designer and college student who loves to

spend her time building new worlds. She is currently working on a 150000 fantasy novel about magic,

survival, kings and queens, political intrigue and lots more. In her spare time, she loves to learn more

about writing crafts, sing, dance, bake and relax.


You can follow her on Instagram: @kalzenah


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