Story Goal / Theme

by Razia
(Gainesville, Florida)

Hi, I've read the pieces on Story Goal and Theme and I am still not clear on the practical differences between them and how I would use one versus the other. Any Advice? Thank you!

Response: Story Goal is the focus of the characters' efforts, particularly the protagonist's. It is what they are trying to accomplish or achieve.

There are different types of theme, but the most common type is a value judgement, a way of measuring or considering how a problem should be solved or a goal attained.

You can think of a story's message as...

"When trying to achieve X (Story Goal), a particular approach or method (Y) is better than the opposite approach or method (Z)."

The evaluation of Y versus Z is the thematic argument. Examples of each will appear in the story so that the reader can weigh up the evidence for and against each. (As the writer, you provide the evidence to lead them to the conclusion you desire.)

Of course, there are many different thematic arguments you can make. The simplest in popular stories is where Y is good and Z is evil (or perhaps the common good versus self-interest).

For instance, in The Lord of the Rings the goal is to prevent anyone of power from being able to possess the One Ring, which will expand their power such that power will be excessively concentrated and ultimately corrupting. As for Y and Z, it's pretty clear the differences between the good side and the evil side. The good guys care about each other and the good of the world, the bad guys are destructive towards everything, including themselves. The good guys are selfless, the bad guys are selfish. The good guys respect everyone, the bad guys only respect power, etc.

So you can say that the thematic message is that, when the goal is the proper distribution of power, caring about the common good, respecting everyone, etc. - all the values the good guys possess - are ultimately better than the values the evil side embodies.

Or, more simply, good is better than evil.

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