Theme is important. It’s deeper than plot. It’s what makes the story come alive. And it’s very, very general. Love overcomes bigotry. Hope springs eternal. Life is good. Nothing specific.
Problem is, the general nature of theme makes it illusive, amorphous and easy to lose track of even though the theme is what makes the story unforgettable. Like the times you set out to write a love story and ended up with a family saga. You had a techno- thriller clearly in mind but you wrote a romance. So the question is … how can you know your theme before you begin writing if it might change during the course of the story?
The answer is, you don’t. And that’s okay. Because theme chooses you, not the other way around, and that’s why very often it shouldn’t be decided until after the story is finished.
What you wrote when you thought you were writing whatever you set out to write was the story your subconscious was directing you to write. You just didn’t know it until you wrote The End at the bottom of the last page with that elegant flourish all writers learn early on.
At that moment, and not a second before, go back and decipher the underlying theme of your masterpiece. It might surprise you. It may be totally different from what you expected. It usually is.
Don’t worry about it. Run with whatever theme you uncovered that you didn’t know existed until your story was written. Then pretend that theme was what you set out to write all along and accept all compliments gracefully.