Tips for Creating Thematic Resonance

Because theme often arises organically from a story, without much initial conscious thought on the author’s part, it can sometimes be a tricky aspect for writers to get their heads around. One of the keys to creating a story with deep thematic resonance is choosing subplots that can thematically mirror and reinforce the main plot’s theme.

As an example, consider the ever-complicated Charles Dickens and his classic Little Dorrit. This book is brimming with unique characters and interesting moral conundrums, but one of the primary themes is that of hypocrisy, particularly as it applies to parents and their children.

In Little Dorrit, no fewer than five characters have to deal with parental hypocrisy. The main thrust of the story revolves around, in the first place, Amy Dorrit and the attempts of her father to pretend his days in a debtor’s prison never existed and, in the second place, the other protagonist Arthur Clenham’s struggles with his pious but cruel mother.

BBC Little Dorrit Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit (2008), BBC / WGBH Boston.

Writing Your Story’s Theme (Amazon affiliate link)

In these characters and these relationships, Dickens gives us the primary plot. He could easily have left his story at that, and readers still would have gotten the point and come away from the story with plenty to chew on. But Dickens took his theme much further by illustrating various other aspects of hypocrisy in the relationships of other minor characters. None of these relationships were extraneous or repetitious in comparison to the primary characters. Rather they serve to reinforce, contrast, and expand upon the main theme.

Consider your work-in-progress. What’s your main theme and how is it illustrated in the lives of your main characters? Then think about how you can illustrate other aspects of this theme via your minor characters and subplots.

In the end, you should come away with an intricately woven theme that will stick with readers long after they’ve closed your book.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How are you deepening your thematic resonance through your minor characters and subplots? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

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