Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Plots and Themes and Concepts, oh my!

Last week, a loyal reader asked a great question - what is the difference between plot, theme, concept, etc. in a novel?

By definition:

Plot: the storyline, plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.
Theme: what the author is trying to convey, the central idea of the story, woven all the way through. The characters' actions, interactions, and motivations all reflect the story's theme.

Concept: is used at the beginning of the process. It’s the statement that keeps you focused as you write.

(the above Concept is typically used for screenwriting, but the idea still applies to novels)

Okay, so are you even more confused now? ;)

Let me try to sum up/clarify in my own words.

Basically, concept and theme can be considered the same thing, in my opinion. It's the higher, overarching message of the story. Such as: redemption, forgiveness, salvation, finding true love, letting go, taking risks, living out a's what you want your reader to feel and experience and hear from the story without actually telling them word for word. It's subtle and subconscious. It's not a sermon, it's not pointed out through the actual text of the story. It's deeper than that.

The plot is the more literal timeline of events, where the characters go from point A to point B. It's what HAPPENS during the story.

Let's use an example of my first Love Inspired novel, RETURN TO LOVE. The plot consisted of high school sweethearts finding each other once again in New Orleans, many years later, and finding themselves working together on a fundraiser project for the penguins at the Aquarium of the Americas. The theme of the story was forgiveness, healing, and second chances because throughout the story, that is what the characters sought out/desired.

In another example, RODEO SWEETHEART (my third LI novel): The plot consisted of a cowgirl trying to save her family horse farm by reluctantly running a dude ranch on the property and training to bull ride, then meeting and falling for a city boy who was actually there under false pretenses, and had the opposite goal as she did. The theme was sacrifice, the struggles of family relationships and love.

So in essence, you can think of the plot as what your characters do, and the theme/concept as the reasons why your characters do what they do.

Make sense now? :)

Fellow Scribblers, what do you have to add to this?


  1. Nice post, Betsy!! Y'all know I'm not much for plotting, but I do always start with some sort of a concept sentence. In Cool Beans, for example, it was like this: "Maya's best friend and roommate starts unknowingly dating Maya's ex-almost-fiance". Having a sentence like this tends to keep me on track as I write the book.

    As for a theme, I have noticed that whatever I'm currently learning in my walk with God always ends up in there somehow - whether I mean for it to or not. ;)

  2. Great breakdown. I love how you put these definitions all together for writers.