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How To Craft Theme In Screenwriting

Theme in screenwriting is more than just an artistic choice, it’s the message that you’re conveying to the world. 

In this article, I’ll delve into the crucial concept of how to craft theme in screenwriting and explain how you can infuse your screenplay with depth and meaning from the very beginning.

theme in screenwriting

What Is Theme In Screenwriting And Why Is Theme Important?

Theme, in the world of screenwriting, is the central idea or message that your story conveys. It can often be the foundation from which your characters, plot, and dialogue are all built.

By contemplating the thematic realm of your story at an early stage, you can harness the power of theme to create a rich and layered narrative.

As you weave a theme throughout your screenplay, you can present a balanced argument based on the contrasting beliefs and values of your characters. Each character will adopt a unique perspective on the central theme, allowing your story to resonate on multiple levels and with a broader audience and reflect complex issues about modern society.

Theme Stated and The Opening Image

Although it’s not absolutely necessary to state your theme in the opening image, it can be useful to convey the ideas that you’ll be examining in your script.

A perfect example of this comes with the screenplay for “Little Miss Sunshine.” The film opens with a very striking image of young Olive watching Miss World receive her trophy, which is depicted in the reflection of her glasses. 

This image is a powerful representation of the theme, as Olive’s dreams and aspirations are closely tied to the idea of winning, whilst also asserting that her appearance is unconventionally beautiful.

The opening image here sets the stage for the broader thematic spectrum expressed through the characters in the film, each of whom holds a distinct position on the concept of winning and losing.

little miss sunshine theme in screenwriting

Exploring Character and Theme In Screenwriting

In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the characters provide a vivid tapestry of viewpoints on the theme of winning. Here’s a brief breakdown of their connections:

Olive: The young protagonist’s dream of winning the beauty pageant drives the central narrative. Her journey is a poignant exploration of the theme, highlighting the importance of pursuing one’s dreams regardless of societal norms.

Richard: Olive’s father, is fixated on winning in a different way – the pursuit of success and self-worth through his “nine steps to success” program. His obsession with winning often leads to comic and tragic outcomes.

Grandpa (Edwin): His rebellious spirit showcases a perspective on winning that’s not bound by societal conventions. He’s an embodiment of the theme of choosing personal happiness over conformity.

Frank: Frank, the despondent scholar, initially values winning in the academic sense, but as the story progresses, he undergoes a transformation, understanding that life’s victories are not always academic.

Cheryl: Olive’s mother represents the nurturing aspect of winning, emphasising the value of supporting her daughter’s dreams.

Crafting Your Own Thematic Statement

It’s important to consider how you see the world as an individual and let this unique perspective bleed on to the page.

Once you’ve explored theme through your characters, you can think about how the story’s plot and structure can ultimately deliver a thematic statement, or pose a thematic question.

The script’s resolution and the attitude shift your protagonist experiences can encapsulate this overall thematic statement. This statement not only ties your story together but also allows you to make a profound comment on the world.

The thematic statement is your unique voice as a writer. It’s the essence of what sets your script apart, making it more marketable and memorable. Audiences are drawn to stories that resonate with deeper meaning; a well-crafted theme is your ticket to achieving this.

little miss sunshine theme in screenwriting

In conclusion, when writing a screenplay, remember that theme isn’t just a layer of your story.

By developing your theme in the early stages, drawing inspiration from works like “Little Miss Sunshine,” and crafting a thematic statement, you’ll not only create a compelling narrative but also establish your distinct voice as a writer.

So, as you embark on your screenwriting journey, let your theme be your guiding light, illuminating the path to a story that captivates and resonates with audiences.

Nick Fore Script Doctor / Script Consultant

Nick Fore is an experienced script consultant who reads screenplays for the British Film Institute.

He has written comprehensive coverage on over 1,000 scripts and has helped screenwriters get their work into development with production companies such as Imagine Entertainment and Screen Ireland. 

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