Saturday, 7 June 2008

Conflict and Theme, Eternal Bedmates

Tell Me a Story - writing tip

I've received another query, this time about the difference between theme and conflict. It seems to cause problems, yet it's basically quite simple.

Okay, so I've already touched on theme in Writing Tips - The Theme of Things. It's important to get it right though, so I thought I'd expand on it a little and list things down. We all like lists, don't we .... so much tidier.


  • Theme provides the basic structure for your novel. Think of it as the skeleton upon which the body of the story will hang. Without it, the body simply won’t stand up.
  • EVERY person and EVERY occasion in your plot should be linked to the theme in some way or other or it doesn't deserve to be in there.
  • Theme should always have its roots in strong feelings.
  • Without passion there is no story.
  • You should be able to encompass the theme in a short sentence. Think along the lines of how a Chinese proverb is constructed. This will give you an idea of how to encompass theme.
  • Make a little proverb from it, or use an existing proverb if you will.
  • Theme is what the whole of your narrative hangs on.
  • Conflict is the foundation upon which every story is built. Use the theme to carry it along.
  • Conflict can be between man and man, man and himself, or man and nature (use woman as man where appropriate - no PC here). Sometimes man’s inner turmoil with himself can be most poignant.
  • There must be frequent tension in your novel, even when the conflict is not observable.
  • The conflict should ALWAYS be plausible.
  • The intensity of conflict should VARY throughout the story. There's nothing worse than overdoing tension. If you don't give time for readers to take breath, they'll be exhausted.
Hope this helps to sort things out.

Looking for a different read?

Try Past Sins a contemporary romance by Ellie Jones
or Short Moments - a collection of ten heartwarming stories