Narratives, as Mr. Stephens often points out in his videos and curriculum, are fun to write and fun to read. Whether personal or imaginative, they tend to allow for more expression and creativity than compositions such as essays or research papers.
Writing the narrative can be easier as well, for the homeschool student is usually describing a series of events (hopefully not unfortunate) in the order that they occurred. The writing is fun; the construction is simple. As long as transitions are included between events, what could go wrong?
Well, narratives often lack a primary ingredient. And that missing ingredient is a theme.
Theme, in literature, is the central idea of a work—a main idea that everything in the composition is centered around and gives structure to the work overall. Check out the following themes from famous pieces of literature:
- Shakespeare’s Othello: jealousy leads to distrust and sorrow.
- Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit: love has great and mysterious power.
- Lois Lowry’s The Giver: having honor is not the same thing as having authority.
“Why is theme so important, especially in narratives?” a student may ask their homeschool instructor. “Can’t the events of a story be told without one?”
They can. And many homeschool students write narratives and stories this way—relating events as they happened—without some kind of overarching theme. But here are three reasons why narratives of any kind should include a theme:
Narratives are literature.
If a narrative is literature, and literature must have a theme, then it follows that narratives must have themes as well. Themes, along with their earlier definition, can also be described as the purpose for writing.
What is the author trying to say? What might the author want their reader to learn? How does everything in a story fit together? The answers to these questions can usually be found in the theme, and a piece of literature often includes multiple themes (though just one is sufficient for a narrative).
Homeschool students, when writing, may not make the connection that their composition is also literature. Once that connection is realized, however, the idea of a theme often comes more naturally.
Narratives are guided by a theme.
The idea of a theme as something essential to the narrative may intimidate the student, but on the contrary, knowing the theme before writing a narrative is quite helpful. If the student knows their main idea before writing the narrative’s events, they can pen each event in a way that specifically points back to that main idea.
For example, if the student is writing about their first time on a rollercoaster, their theme could be how overcoming their fear led to something fun. If the student has chosen to write about when they moved to a different city, the theme could cover how change is easier when one is surrounded by family.
The final result of writing a narrative like this is that each part of the narrative is essential to the whole. Nothing is random or out of place; instead, the theme is supported by every included event. Knowing the theme beforehand, then, is beneficial to the student as they write, and the events themselves can help guide the student toward a theme.
Narratives are incomplete without a theme.
Several strings of events without some kind of knot to pull them together will remain unconnected, and that’s exactly what a narrative without a theme is. Narratives are stories, and stories are interesting because every element is connected to something bigger—the theme, the main idea, the overarching message.
Narratives without themes are basically lists of events, and very few people enjoy reading lists. If a narrative is fun to write and fun to read, then, the student needs to make sure that their final product is enjoyable, and a theme does this by keeping the reader interested and intrigued.
Narratives without themes leave the reader lacking.
A simple fact of the human condition is that we want reason and meaning in whatever we do. Whether it’s playing a video game, working at a company, or even reading a personal narrative, one question guides us: Why?
“Why must the game’s adventurer complete quests? Why is the company’s mission important? Why am I reading this narrative, and why did the author write it?”
A narrative without a theme cannot answer those final queries but will instead pose additional questions. A narrative with a theme, however, explains why the included events are important. It also leaves the reader with something to ponder after they have finished reading, which is another important function of theme.
Themes are vital in literature, and narratives are literature; as a result, the homeschool student’s narrative must include a theme in order to be complete and satisfying. As you write, let the theme appear naturally. During the events you plan to describe, how did you feel? What did you learn? Who was affected? Let the theme guide your narrative, and it will guide your reader as well.
Essentials in Writing