Canadian Ann L. M. Kitching toiled as a teacher for many years, amassing experience in managing diverse groups of learners. Currently retired, she writes full-time and subverts expectations through continued interest in shows like Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, movies like Die Hard, books like Blade (by Tim Bowler), and music such as I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Picture a polite old-fashioned mom with a juvenile sense of humor.
Her (unpublished) novels include: Laya and Tiffany’s Island Adventure (Two fairies enter the human world to complete “practical” exams) and I’ll Eat You Tomorrow (Dragon Ashley juggles the decision to raise a human baby).

Set a Solid Story: Start with Theme—by Ann Kitching

Plot structure tells you what to do and when to do it. However, if plot is the skeleton, you’ll need muscles, sinews, guts, and blood in order to tell a full story (characters, conflicts, stakes, internal change). Plus, you need to tie all of the gushy bits to the bones with an overlay of theme.

What’s Plot?

Plot is necessary for cause and effect, but doesn’t uncover what the story’s about. Plot reveals how the story will unfold but tells little about the message behind the action because it deals primarily with external conflicts, or what happens on the outside. Although plotting is pivotal, many first-time authors mistake the plot for the story. When asked what their story is about, they list action details or a series of events.

What’s Story?

Story, on the other page, is all about conflict and the concepts the author will explore during the course of the plot. Story unveils the main characters, provides glimpses into their personalities, and highlights what’s at stake. The internal struggles of the characters tell readers why events matter and what ideas readers—and the characters—are going to understand by the end. 

What’s Theme?

Theme is the base of your story. Theme is the universal concept running through your writing (friendship, love, hatred, responsibility, and so on). It’s the central idea; the message you want readers to remember. It’s the “Big Idea” of your story. Theme is a one-sentence summary. Your theme could be:

  • acceptance
  • becoming thinner
  • fear
  • creating something better
  • injustice
  • following your heart
  • depression
  • trauma

 Tie these definitions to the plot structure we investigated on 19 Jan 2022:

Phase 1: Introduction: Attach theme to your character’s wants, and most especially to their internal need.

Phase 2: Rising Action: How will your theme affect the “fun and games”? Which positive and negative thematic ideas will you explore?

Phase 3: Climax: What moment provokes the hero’s change in attitude towards the theme?

Phase 4: Falling Action: How does your hero wrestle with the theme?

Phase 5: Resolution: What’s your hero’s new belief in the theme? 


Theme is the overarching guiding light of your story. Through your characters, you can show many different sides of the theme, in fact, you must show different sides of the theme in order to have a well-rounded, satisfying story. Whenever you’re unsure of a part of your story, evaluate its relationship to the theme. Have you included something that doesn’t promote the theme? Spice up your writing and show a little extra “skin”. 


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