Screenwriters Beginners,  Screenwriting Techniques,  Screenwriting Tips

Discover the Importance of Theme for Better Screenplays

Hey guys, I’m sure you’ve all have heard talking about Theme a thousand times. Nevertheless, lots of people are wondering ‘What is Theme’ and many find it a bit vague. However, I can guarantee that Theme is the most important element of a screenplay.  That’s why, by the end of this article, I will explain how the theme is going to help you write better screenplays.

Everything there is to know about Theme

Every script must have a theme, it must have an argument to make, an opinion about life to support.

Other names:

  • Theme
  • Moral
  • Argument
  • Message
  • Destination

But, no matter how it is called, all good scripts have it. If a script doesn’t have an underlying theme, it will probably be a bad script, it’s going to feel like it’s empty or indifferent, and this makes sense, because anything in life that doesn’t have an intention or a driving purpose seems futile and vain.

  • When you get to your car, the first thing you want to know is “Where am I going?”
  • While you’re shopping at the grocery store, your first thought is “What am I going to buy?”
  • When you start watching a youtube video you want immediately to know “What am I going to learn from this?”

You always want to know the result. Therefore, you need to know that every action you do will lead to something, that will lead to a specific result.
So, the question in screenwriting is:
“Why am I writing this particular story?”
“Why do I need to tell this story?”
“What is my goal?”

What Theme isn’t

Your Theme is not a subject matter.
Many people refer to their theme using only one word, such as: “The theme of my movie is about love or responsibility or betrayal or feminism”. Try not to do that, when you’re describing your Theme, don’t use just one word.
Well… you can use one-word themes for the sake of speed, of giving a quick answer to someone, but that doesn’t say actually anything. Because, that is so generic, that it won’t help you at all if you are a screenwriter.

What Theme is

Theme is screenwriter's point of view.
Theme is screenwriter’s point of view.

Theme is your point of view, is the way you, as a screenwriter, view the world. Therefore, it’s your message that you’re trying to get across to the audience through your screenplay.

Theme is one, specific phrase. A specific message or a specific question.

Every story must have a purpose. An argument or a question. Every good script must have a destination. Destination is what the film is really all about and it’s what it gives the viewers that inner satisfaction, when the movie ends, that they have watched a good film.

Remember, back in school, when you had to write an essay in order to support a particular argument or phrase a philosophical question? And then, you started writing the entire essay keeping in mind that you needed to prove your argument?
That’s exactly what you need to do with your stories, that is the destination. Every good story must have a destination, a theme. All good stories do.

But what do we mean by destination?

Examples of Themes

Do you know the kid’s tale about “Three little pigs?”
Its theme is to teach you to “Better safe than sorry”. It shows that it’s wiser to be careful and cautious, than to be hasty or rash and do things that you will later regret.

Themes are always clear and simple.

  • “Honesty is the best policy” is what we learn from the film Liar, Liar.
  • “Men should treat women more respectfully” is what Michael realizes in Tootsie and changes his attitude.
  • “Families are important” is what Kevin realizes in Home alone.


Many people in the film industry call it Moral and both words are ok. However, I’m not clinging to the word Moral, because it is related to principles of right and wrong in behaviour; it’s about what is ethical. But a screenplay doesn’t have to be preachy. It doesn’t even have to give an answer. A screenplay’s purpose is not always to teach you something, but to make you question some things in life; to make you think.
Many screenplays ask a philosophical question and then they let the audience decide what is the answer.

The entire screenplay of Forrest Gump is a philosophical question about life.
“What is life? Is there a destiny for us or we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze?”

The theme of Forrest Gump is a philosophical question about life.
The theme of Forrest Gump is a philosophical question about life.

How do we find theme in a film

Well, it’s not easy to find theme.

You must watch the entire film first and then contradict the beginning with the end of the film.

  1. Check where did the protagonist begin from?
  2. Where did he/she end?
  3. What does he/or she learn by the end of the movie?

Most of the times you can find out the theme from these, but again, you need to do a lot of thinking.

How to use Theme to Write Better Screenplays

If you know your theme while you’re making decisions for your screenplay you can use it to find the best:

  • Protagonist for your story
  • Antagonist for your story
  • Ending for your story
  • Subplots for your story
  • Secondary characters for your story

Yes, theme is THAT important!
It can help you clear your decisions while writing and always be sure that you’re making the best choice.

Let’s see some examples:

How does the theme of Liar Liar has been crafted
How does the theme of Liar Liar has been crafted?

[Spoiler alert if you want to pause reading here, go watch the film and come back].

In the film “Liar Liar” one could say that the theme is “Honesty is the best policy”.

  • The Protagonist must always be the person that finds it more difficult to cope with your theme.
    So, in this case where your message is honesty, the person who has difficulty with honesty is a Liar. But what job should we choose for such a liar? Would that theme/message work if the protagonist was… a priest? Or a doctor? No. His profession had to be a profession that uses words to convince others. What better choice than to make him a Lawyer? It’s a job that is based on words. Do all lawyers lie? Of course not! But our guy chooses the unethical road to elevate his career.
  • There are many antagonists of Fletcher in this film. But in order to make a liar to understand his flaw and change, the best Antagonist to give him would be someone that loves him deeply. Someone who wants the best for him. Someone that Fletcher need to keep in his life at all costs. And that’s his little son. His son makes a birthday wish that his father would not lie for a day, and his wish comes true.
  • Of course, when you have come up with a theme, the Ending of your screenplay must deliver that message. In the end of “Liar Liar” Fletcher manages to be a good lawyer and even save his really bad client, Samantha, by telling the truth. And then he wins back his son, by choosing to be honest.


  • The film has the main plot which is Fletcher’s relationship with his son and 4 Subplots. It also has a few more mini subplots but we’re not gonna be bothered with those now. The 4 main subplots are:
    1. His relationship with his ex-wife (she is frustrated with him for the way he’s treating his son and she’s planning to take him away from him)
    2. With his secretary (who is his ally in his lies)
    3. His relationship with his two bosses. He sleeps with Miranda in the hope of becoming a partner in the law firm. Miranda is also a liar and she asks him to lie in order to win the case he takes, because this case will bring a lot of money to the firm. His other boss, Mr. Allan, who doesn’t really care if Fletcher is lying or tells the truth, in fact he laughs with the truth, what he cares is that his firm earns a lot of money.
    4. The case itself. Fletcher was ready to win this case by lying, however, now he needs to find a way to win it by telling the truth.

Secondary Characters

  • All Secondary Characters have to connect with our protagonist in relation to his flaw. Some are against and some are in favour of his lying habit.
    1. Ex-wife and her new boyfriend. (She hates that Fletcher is lying and she threatens to raise his son with her boyfriend, an honest loving guy).
    2. Woman boss – Miranda (she wants him to be a liar, she doesn’t really care for him, she is manipulative.)
    3. Man boss – Mr. Allan (he seems to prefer honesty, he enjoys it when Fletcher is telling him the truth, he laughs, but he doesn’t really care about it. All he wants is that his firm wins cases and earns money).
    4. His client, Samantha (Fletcher convinces Samantha that she’s a victim and corrupts her. She’s willing to lie to get as much money as she can from her ex-husband).
    5. His secretary (she covers his lies; she helps him get through with it until she learns that he’s been lying to her as well).
    6. Judge Stevens. (Fletcher can’t lie to the judge and when later shows disrespect, he holds him in contempt of court).
    7. A beggar (Fletcher’s lying to him also, that he doesn’t have any money).
    8. A policeman (Fletcher reveals everything to the policeman because he can’t lie).
    9. Garage man worker (now Fletcher is in the opposite side. The worker lies to his face and he can’t do anything about it).

Did you notice how every subplot
and every secondary character in the film
has something to do with lying and honesty?


To sum up, as you can see, the Theme, the message is very important and it can help you build a solid script.
I hope you understand by now what theme or message or moral or destination of a screenplay is and why is it so important.

Here you can also watch the relevant episode about Theme and find out how to use it to write better screenplays:

Don’t forget to check also the Dramatic Question, which will help you to Grab the viewers attention and keep it for the whole film.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *