Thematic Significance in Stories

jwSRb1497541131Rolled up with all the Plot Planners I’ve used for teaching and created for my own novels, this Thematic Significance Bubble example from The Secret Garden fell out. Interesting that it appears just as I’m writing The Avenue, a novel I describe as a grown-up, darker version of The Secret Garden — but I digress. A story exists through characters and the actions they take, but at the same time it also represents something else. The thematic significance of a story is a statement the story illustrates as truth. The thematic significance in stories can be plotted scene by scene just as the dramatic action and the character emotional development are plotted. First you have to determine what is the thematic significance of your story.

Thematic Significance Bubble Chart

thematic bubblesTo help writers find their thematic significance, I came up with the thematic bubble exercise. During the first couple of drafts and before you fully grasp what the deeper meaning of your story is, begin by filling in the themes your story touches on, beginning with the smaller “bubbles” first. Connect the circles to each other when relevant. Add new bubbles as new themes crop up. 


You will touch on many themes throughout your story. The ones to pay most attention to are the themes that travel from the beginning all the way through to the end of the story.

Themes can include:

  • Loss of family
  • Rejection
  • Abandonment
  • Loyalty
  • Responsibility
  • Revenge
  • Forgiveness

Create Theme Bubbles

Connect the circles to each other when relevant. As you write, try to make a significant thematic statement as an action point. How does one do what the protagonist sets out to do in the story? Connect ideas together to create a broad thematic significance statement. Now, make the broad thematic significance statement relevant to your individual story. Tack on a phrase at the beginning or the end that

  • qualifies
  • limits
  • modifies

the broader thematic significance as it applies to what happens in your story.

Growth Reflects Meaning

Stories show a character changing, at the least, and transforming, at the most profound. This potential for growth reflects meaning. Meaning reflects truth. The thematic significance of a story shows what all the words in each individual scene add up to. At its best, the significance of a story connects each individual reader and audience member to a moment of clarity about our shared relationship to a bigger picture through a wider complex of thoughts and relationships that exist outside the story.


Excerpted from:

 The Plot Whisperer Workbook
Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories