A Scripted Maze

perils with writing and whatnot

Theme? Plot?

Theme? Plot?

Image provided by
Jonathan Reyes
@ https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpaxonreyes/

About fifteen years ago, I took a mail-order course from Writer’s Digest. I wanted to write short stories for magazines but was unsure of my abilities. There wasn’t any place in the text books, letters, or worksheets where the words theme or plot were mentioned. I know, kind of weird coming from Writer’s Digest.


The first time I saw the word theme being associated the process of writing, other than a composition for school, was right here on the Internet. Several of the blogs I’m subscribed to are mostly about writing and, of course, are owned and written by authors who are much farther along in this craft/art than I am.

I thought I knew what the word meant. After all, it’s one of those words you learn in elementary school with grammar and spelling. Here in the U.S., the class is called English. Do they call this class Greek in Greece? Could other countries be calling it something like Reading and Writing? Shows how small my world is, doesn’t it?

When I first started reading the posts on this subject, I got confused. It seemed that writer are having as much trouble defining it as I am. According the Dictionary.Com, there’s seven different meanings for the noun form alone. The three most relevant ones are:

1. a subject of discourse, discussion, meditation, or composition; topic:

The need for world peace was the theme of the meeting.

2. a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.

3. a short, informal essay, especially a school composition.

The last one here, of course, is the least compatible for what I’m discussing in this post but I wanted to include it so that you could see how grade-school kids would be likely to apply it.

The first two definitions look like one to me. Am I missing something here?

In my estimation, either of the first two definitions pretty much says it all. Yet, while browsing through blogs, I read all sort of elaborations. To tell the truth, they’re kind of perplexing.


The term plot, although discussed at many blogs, isn’t actually defined by any of those authors. It doesn’t need to be. At least that’s what I’ve been think until I looked the word up.

1. Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.

6. a list, timetable, or scheme dealing with any of the various arrangements for the production of a play, motion picture, etc.

The original count of meanings was seven. Yes, five didn’t apply, although the last one could have been taken a different way so it would have been relevant to writing. What I found odd was the two I coping seem to be the same really. Authors aren’t trying to confuse those of us who are newbies. Why is the dictionary doing it?

I don’t think the components needed to write a novel have to be portrayed as being complex. Leave that for the story itself. The work should not be in trying to understand the terms of the craft. The work, as much as most of us love it and don’t consider it work, is being creative and writing it in such a way so readers don’t want to put the book down until they reach the end.

Am I trying to simplify things too much?


12 comments on “Theme? Plot?

  1. Interesting. The way I always explained the difference to my students was that theme is the deeper message in a work (implied or explicit) and plot is merely what happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glynis Jolly

      Your explanation is was what I thought theme and plot were. That’s the way I heard in way back in 7th grade by Mr. Emery. I’ve always thought every story has a message, either yelling out or peeking out from under. The message isn’t necessarily a moral but it does say something to the reader. The plot is how that message gets across.

      Yes or no?


  2. fingerprintwriting

    Glynis, this is the first time I’m hearing about the word pantsers (in one of your responses). Theme can be such a challenge! Have a lovely weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glynis Jolly

      The first time I read the word was about three months ago. I thought it was such a silly word too. I’m sure it’s relatively new and, in my opinion, a slang term. Pantser refers to a writer who doesn’t plan before s/he writes. S/he just sits her/himself down and starts writing. The flip of the coin is a plotter. Writer has outlines, notes, development sheets for characters, etc. before even thinking about starting to write that first page. Neither way of writing is right or wrong. They’re just different approaches.

      When I think about what my book is about, I don’t have any problem fitting it into one or two sentences. But once I find a piece of paper and pen, or a text file to type on, the one or two sentences explode into an entire paragraph and I can’t remember the one or two sentences I started with in my head.

      Do they make Beano for the mind? I have way too many brain farts. O_o


  3. Jill Weatherholt

    I just write and eventually everything becomes clear. 🙂 Probably not acceptable by WD.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glynis Jolly

      Jill, I’m sure WD accepts pantsers, which is what you are. I’ve been one all this time but I’ve found out I was one because I had no idea how to be a plotter. Rachel’s book walked me through the tulips. 😛 Some writers just feel better as pantsers. I’m really not one of them though. I want schedules, plans — I want all of my ducks in a row.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Cat

    I wouldn’t know Glynis, I just write how it feels and looks/reads. Anytime I’ve written fiction, I take the same approach

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glynis Jolly

      I have a feeling that I’m asking for the moon. I wonder if this idea of complicating the terms is just to help writers feel that their chosen career is worthwhile. I don’t find writing difficult but it sure is a long process. 😉


      • Cat

        I’d find it too tedious to start thinking of rules, but then I don’t do it seriously

        Liked by 1 person

        • Glynis Jolly

          I’m one of those peculiar people who likes every day with schedules, plans, neat and tidy areas — the works. Working with a thought-out process is an easy one for me. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Jacqui Murray

    I struggled with theme, too. When I finally forced myself to figure out the theme (as opposed Premise, Idea, Plot, and Moral, it was helpful. Though painful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glynis Jolly

      If I go by the definition, theme does mean ‘idea’. I keep on wanting to call it the ‘message’, not necessarily meaning moral though. :/


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This entry was posted on 2015/06/10 by in opinion, whatnot about writing and tagged , , , , .



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