Narrative Writing



Most good stories have a theme. The theme is the big "life lesson" that the author is trying to teach you. In other words, it's the moral of the story. (moral = a lesson, especially one concerning what is right or prudent, that can be derived from a story, a piece of information, or an experience)

Here are some examples:

Of course, very few things are "universal truths" (things that everyone agrees with), and thus, it's easy to find books with contradictory themes. For example, one author might write a story that teaches the following lesson:

Meanwhile, another author might tell a story with the opposite theme:

Although these themes are hard to reconcile, each book may be fulfilling in its own way. In any case, a good story leaves us feeling like we've learned something valuable about life or human nature.

Have you thought about the theme of your own story?

To put a theme into words can be tricky, but many writers find this formula useful:

Fill in the first blank with something that humans are curious about. Here are some typical examples:

  • first love / lost love
  • sacrifice
  • chasing your dreams
  • pushing past your limits
  • space aliens
  • growing up / facing reality
  • middle school
  • persistence / courage
  • finding justice
  • prejudice / oppression
  • money / greed
  • betrayal / revenge
  • God / religion / prayer
  • ghosts / vampires
  • society / technology
  • war / violence
  • pride / humility
  • true beauty
  • redemption (finding forgiveness for your sins)
  • selfishness / jealousy
  • self-respect
  • the meaning of [a tradition]
  • the power of nature
  • human nature
  • loss / death / survival
  • the importance of family
  • family relationships
  • hope / mercy
  • trust / forgiveness
  • finding happiness
  • the effects of technology
  • the importance of attitude / optimism
  • loneliness / friendship
  • the evils of racism
  • self-discipline / temptation
  • kindness / tolerance
  • youth / innocence
  • finding your true identity (discovering who you really are)
  • masculinity / femininity
  • the dangers of passing judgment / jumping to conclusions
  • leaving home

Now imagine that you have been asked to teach the world some "great truth" about one of these things—and the way you're going to teach it is by telling us a story.

For example, what can you (the author) teach us (the readers) about first love?

After pondering this question, you might decide to write a realistic story about how it feels to be rejected. And the lesson we're going to learn from your story is this:

On the other hand, you might want to write an uplifting teen fantasy:

Whichever you decide, that's the theme of your story.

Let's try a few more examples. The highlighted sentences are all examples of themes.

If you were to write a story about sacrifice, what would your story teach us about sacrifice?

If you were to write a story about greed, what would your story teach us about greed?

If you were to write a story about space aliens, what would your story teach us about space aliens (or humans)?

Thinking Assignment

Think of the story that you are planning to write. What is the big "life lesson" that you want your readers to learn? And if your story can't teach me anything about life, then why should I bother to read it?

Remember: Great stories almost always have a theme.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.