Finding A Theme for Your Story

I love thinking up  story ideas for children. I want them to be excited to hear my story read out loud or even more excited to read my story over and over all by themselves. But first finding the theme for the story is indeed an important part of crafting the piece. A theme should not scream in bold letters and loud voice, rather a good theme is almost silent and woven into a well crafted story so that the reader may not even realize what the theme was meant to be.

Children want to imagine, be entertained, and to laugh. They love silly and they love weird and they don't want to be lectured to when they are reading for fun. But a story for children can have a lesson or teaching moment if you will, as long as the reader is also having fun while learning. Even better, a good story will have a solid theme with a life skill take away and the reader may not realize they are getting  a life lesson until much later.

So how does a writer choose a theme?  Does the theme come before developing the characters or the other way around? I can only speak for myself and I work on theme first. What is it that I want the story to say? How do I want to affect the reader and why?

Who is the reader?
What thing/s do I want the reader to take away from the story?
Why am I choosing this particular thing/s for the take away? Does it solve a problem, heal a wound, make the reader feel good about something, teach a character trait.... or is the story just plain silly to be read for fun?
When will the theme present itself within the story? Beginning, middle, or ending? The "what" and the "when" go hand in hand when deciding on my theme and guides how I develop the actual story.
How will I construct the story within the chosen theme?  Will I use first person or animal characters? What kind of story arc will best lead to the climax of the story? These are questions I ask as I develop first my theme and then my story characters and ideas.

Here are a few common and very general themes for children's books:
  • loss
  • pets
  • siblings
  • grandparents
  • step parents
  • school
  • bullying
  • tattle tales
  • feeling different
What are your favorite themes when writing for children?

Whatever theme I use, I strive for that ah-haa moment for my readers where they get excited and feel like I have written the story just for them. That makes my heart happy.

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