Theme is something writers frequently forget about during the script writing process simply because they are often focused on the other important and often daunting tasks of character development, plot design, act structure and dialogue, but theme is the glue that binds your entire screenplay and must always be well considered.
Many writers like to shoot from the hip and don’t even outline their story before jumping into a full script, and that’s cool, whatever works for you – BUT, that’s no excuse for not sitting down with your completed first draft or even revised second draft and taking the time to analyze it on various storytelling levels with theme being right at the top of the list.
Ideally you would think about it right from the get-go since the theme of a story should permeate through your entire screenplay and influence the shaping of characters, your plot and definitely dialogue. The truth is, however, that sometimes we, as writers, dot not really know the true theme of our story until the end. And other times we still do not recognize it and it is up to someone else to point it out to us. However you discover the theme, make sure you at least try to find it because a story without a theme is like a pastry without egg – you’ll have all the other ingredients which taste great by themselves but you’ll have nothing to bind them together.
Theme can be many things.. Love vs. duty. The consequences of pride. Deep-rooted regret from never telling someone how you truly feel. The atrocities of war and its many forgotten, unsung heroes. Whatever it is, it is crucial to have a central theme and your story and characters around it. It is the spine of your script and without it readers and an audience will notice that something is missing or that the characters do not ring true. Especially important is the dialogue your central characters speak since this should also reflect the theme – through what is said and sometimes more importantly through what is left unspoken.
The great thing about ulteimately pin-pointing your story’s theme, especially if you only stumble upon it late in the day during the first draft, is that sometimes it turns out to be that final element that suddenly puts everything else into place, like the missing piece of a puzzle. It may be that when you realize your theme, nothing changes. But more often than not, understanding your theme instantly throws a whole new light on everything you have written and normally leads to some frantic yet exciting rewrites of scenes and dialogue to cement the expression of that theme throughout your screenplay.