The Importance of Finding a Theme Even in Nonfiction Writing

The Importance of Finding a Theme Even in Non-Fiction Writing

Does finding a theme bring back flashbacks of sitting in English class, tapping your pencil as you go through a quiz on literary devices, wanting to diiiiiieee? I loved English class but remember these scenes vividly.

Let’s take a moment to cringe for a second and collectively relax knowing there won’t be a pop quiz at the end of this.

Associations aside, finding a theme in your writing is super important to creating content that gets results (the kind of results your copywriting is geared for – conversions, engagement, loyal fans).

So what’s all this theme business?

A theme is the glue that underlies a piece of writing. It’s the central topic that the whole thing is based on.

Overall it’s the undercurrent of your work that gives it meaning. It’s what you would talk about with your friends at dinner after the movie. It’s the questions that you are left with after reading the book. The theme gives us a touchstone to think about. What happens in the writing reinforces and fuels the theme.

For example, Harry Potter wouldn’t be the same without themes of good vs. evil or coming of age. Game of Thrones wouldn’t be the same without themes of the conflict between duty and love or the theme of facing hard truths.

Why does it matter?

It actually matters a lot. Without a theme the reader isn’t left with something to think about or take action on. A theme creates meaning. It gives the work a foundation for your main points and examples to stand on.

Themes are not always conscious to the reader right away. Sometimes they take some digging to get an idea of what the heck is going on. That’s okay, they will feel it. There’s a focus to the writing when there’s a theme. You don’t always have to make it obvious, but having one will  ensure your writing is intentional and will constellate action.

When you have a piece of writing that leaves you thinking and has a clear focus, people will connect to the work. And when that happens — sweet, sweet engagement and action is taken.

That’s nice and all … but I’m not writing the next Harry Potter, I’m writing copy and blog posts.

We typically think of themes in fiction work such as novels or movies. However, having a theme is just as important in nonfiction work, especially your copywriting. When you are writing copy, our theme will drive your reader to take action. This is because there is a part of them emotionally pulled by the writing.

Regardless of the genre, if you don’t have a theme you just have a list of ideas or information. You will leave your reader feeling disoriented and they likely won’t continue reading.

How it might look in your work

Themes in nonfiction can be the same as in fiction. This of course will be tailored to fit your, or your clients, needs.

Examples of themes that can be used in copywriting:

  • The underdog overcoming obstacles against all odds
  • Imposter syndrome transforming into confidence
  • Finding inspiration in life-sucking circumstances
  • Believing the impossible to be possible

You get the idea. Once you have a theme, the rest of your writing will fall into place. You will flush it out, give examples, and overall propel the theme forward.

You don’t even have to explicitly say what your theme is (although you may in so many words), but your points should make the theme implicit.

It will shine through because you were clear on it in the first place. This is so important to helping your work stand out from the crowd, get attention, and encourage engagement.

How to find a theme for your writing

The first thing to do when finding a theme is to spend some time thinking about what you want your reader to take away from your writing. This could be a feeling, an action, a question. It could also be a clear call to action such as inquiring about your services or joining your email list.

To get them to take this action, you’ll think about what themes would resonate with them to do so.

For example, is the theme of hope amongst the struggle of entrepreneurship what would resonate with your target audience? Or maybe it’s the courage to step out of their comfort zones and find success on the otherside of fear. Whatever it is get clear before you start writing.

Write your theme on the top of the page as you write your drafts. Remove it for the final of course, but keep it there as a reminder of your focus. It may seem like extra work up front but it will save you time overall and your writing will be better for it.

Tips for finding a theme 

  1. You can think of finding a theme as setting an intention for your writing.
  2. Ask yourself the questions: How do I want my reader to feel after reading this piece? What do I want them to do? What questions do I want them to think about? These questions will help you get clear on your theme.
  3. Once you have your theme draft your content around it. Start an outline with ideas that illustrate your theme.
  4. Stories and examples are great ways to propel your theme forward. They will elicit emotion and bring heart and humanness to your work.
  5. Keep it simple. You don’t have to go crazy trying to identify a theme. Often when you have an idea for content there’s a theme already under the surface, your job is to tease it out and make sure it focuses the rest of the work.

Finding a theme, especially in nonfiction writing will set your work apart from the INFINITE ABYSS of content out there. Your reader will feel the focus, you will have an easier time writing because the content will naturally fall into place.

The trick is really to just train our brains to identify a theme before we start. Or to make sure we clarify our theme when editing. Soon it becomes second nature and your writing will slay for days because of it.

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