The human brain is an incredible thing. Not only does it make sure our bodies continue to function without a thought, it does a lot of other things that don’t require any deliberate thoughts on our part. The one I’m thinking of today is writing a deeper meaning into our work.


Yes, you can sit down and say I’m going to write a story where the theme is going to be X, but you can also sit down to write a story without any sort of theme in mind at all. You may think you’re writing a mystery, or a romance, of a fantasy, but really there is a deeper meaning there that you might not have even realized was there.

What is theme?

Theme is powerful. It’s an underlying message. Below the story of magic or romance or murder, there is a deeper meaning that you may not have even realized was there and sometimes you have to go searching for it to find it.

Themes are generally universal concepts:

  • Love
  • Power
  • Revenge
  • Good vs Evil
  • Perseverance
  • Hope
  • Coming of Age

It could even be something like racism, poverty, or climate change.

Soon after I started writing I encountered this concept of theme and went looking for it my books. I had just finished writing the first three books of my Merry Men Quartet and was plotting out the fourth. I sat back and looked at my books and realized that every single one was a “fish out of water” story—one of the main protagonists was either foreign or had grown up outside of England. Not one of them was comfortable in the society where they were trying to live.

Where does theme come from?

It really astounded me when I realized what I had written. And not only had I written that in one book, but in every single one. And I had done so completely unconsciously.

Why? Probably because I’ve always felt a bit like a fish out of water, never quite fitting into my social group, whatever group that was.

But the point here is that I didn’t plan for this. I didn’t sit down and say “I’m going to write a story about someone who doesn’t fit in.” I sat down to write a Regency romance, and that is, indeed, what I wrote. But there was a deeper meaning there, a deeper theme.

With that realization in mind, I did deliberately plan out the fourth book in the series to be a fish out of water story so that it would fit with the others in the series. What the reader may not realize is that in that story, A Dandy in Disguise, both the hero and heroine don’t fit in, but you have to look deeper to find how this is so. (I won’t spoil the story for you if you want to read it and search for this deeper meaning.)

Since writing that one book with a deliberate theme, I have to admit, I have not done so again. I allow my subconscious free rein when it comes to plotting and writing my books. Only after I’m finished writing do I sometimes go back and look for the theme of the novel (and sometimes use that information in my book description).

I think it’s really fun and fascinating to go back and see what my brain has come up with without any conscious thought on my part.

So, how do you find your theme? Read your book carefully. Think deeply about what your characters are saying—especially at the end where everything is tied up. Frequently, a character will say something (that you didn’t even plan or realize when you were writing) that will lead you to the theme of your story. You can also just sit back and look at the story as a whole and see who the characters are, what their place is in their world, what it is they do, on a broader level. Are they out for revenge? Are they fighting racism? Are they fighting to make their way in a world they don’t understand? This is where you’ll find your theme.

Once you’ve found it, you can choose to deliberately write to a theme, or you can do as I like to do and just leave it up to your subconscious. Your brain is really magnificent that way.