Jan 24 2016

Understanding Theme (What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.)



Understanding your book’s theme is necessary to create meaningful and lasting stories that have deeper meaning than what’s on the surface.

Thanks for tuning in to the third installment in the weekly blog series featuring important writing lessons I learned while writing my story from the post-apocalyptic/dystopian Refuge Inc. series, Darkness Eternal. Darkness Eternal is available now on Amazon at a special preorder discount. It officially releases March 1st.


In general, the Refuge Inc. series explores many themes. One or two are major themes, which are the most significant in the work. Many are minor and appear in the stories briefly. Almost every story, especially those that resonate, have a theme.

Defining Theme


What exactly is theme? The theme of a story is the underlying message within a story, or the point the author is trying to make.

What the theme is not:

  • The Subject. The subject is a topic of the story. The theme is a personal belief or opinion of the author. For example, a writer may choose the subject of “coming out” and the theme for the story may be the author’s opinion that coming out later in life is detrimental in building healthy relationships earlier in life.
  • The Moral. The moral of a story is a lesson or message a reader takes away from the story. Because a moral can be left for a reader to determine for themselves, what resonates can differ for every person.

Developing Theme


Some of my best writing happens when I have a point to make or an opinion to express. That is why it’s best to start by looking inside yourself with self-reflection.

  • What in life has been heavy on your mind, heart, or conscious?
  • What have you wanted to say but too afraid to express?
  • What have you been saying but no one acknowledges?
  • What in life do you wish you can change, improve, or eliminate?

Like all people, you have beliefs, opinions, and experiences. You feel strongly about certain things. Now all you have to do is incorporate those feelings and messages in your story. Here’s how:

  • Use a character or conversation. Allow a character, preferably the protagonist, to express an opinion about the subject of the story, and then show how his beliefs are tested, changed, or enhanced to reflect the overall story theme.
  • Add it in the narrative. Be creative and use your story’s world, settings, and characters to integrate your theme.
  • Include it in thoughts or unspoken means. Some ideas are never publicly expressed, but what’s not said usually says a lot.
  • Using metaphors and symbolism. Sure, the blue drapes in the story can mean blue drapes, but when done right those blue drapes can signify the blues of a character who’s been living a double life.

Caution: Be mindful of how often you apply these methods within your story. Employ a combination of techniques and use them sparingly to avoid sounding preachy.

I hope you enjoyed diving into the topic of theme. If you find this helpful, please consider sharing! Now it’s your turn, what book’s theme resonates with you?


Posts in the “What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.” series:

Part 1: Master the Element of Surprise

Part 2: Hook Your Readers 5 Ways

Part 3: Understanding Theme

Part 4: Establish an Emotional Connection Using Deep POV

[image credit: Jo Naylor]

About the author

Leslie Lee Sanders

Leslie is a publishing Industry blogger, freelance writer and an author of over a dozen erotic romance & thriller titles. She self-published over two dozen works of fiction since 2004. Her blog was a finalist in the first annual Goodreads Independent Book Blogger Awards in 2012, and her story Benefits of Sharing is a finalist for the 2013 EPIC Award in the short story category. Her work has been included in the following Writer’s Market books: 2016 & 2017 Writer’s Market, 2016 & 2017 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market, and the 2014 & 2015 editions of Guide to Self-Publishing. As well as online blogs like Be a Freelance Blogger. She resides in Arizona with her husband and 3 daughters.

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