Writing composes several elements – dramatic, grammatical, structure and theme. Theme seems to be the often neglected part of the story in beginners, yet it’s often the take away lesson. Try describing any book in a breakdown of “What’s it about?” and what you describe is essentially the theme.
“Good versus evil” breaks down into “the ultimate triumph of good over evil”, “The strength of innocence”, “Love conquers all.”
“evil gets its payback” can be broken down even further into “Evil is self defeating”, “you just picked on the wrong person”, etc.
The way you break down a movie or a book into one answer – “what’s it about?” is the theme of your book.
While your book is emphatically about “the protagonist needs to…”, and all the dialogue and scenes need to emphasize that and move that forward, essentially your writing – seen in a bird’s eye view – must reinforce the theme.
I’m not so much worried about “Does this scene reinforce my theme?” I’ve read many a book where the theme was missing from the many of the scenes. But when you view it chapter by chapter, the theme is there, slowly reinforced as the book makes its way to the inevitable conclusion.
You only need to be slightly conscious of theme as you’re writing your one-sheet for your novel, or when you’re writing your 60 spark point sheet. Does this plot point concern the theme? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The majority of times, it should in some way concern the theme. A theme of good triumphs cannot take place in every scene – it has to look like the protagonist is losing – but the overall purpose in your mind is that of the ultimate win of the protagonist. And that’s how you reinforce the theme. Setbacks seem to violate your theme, but when he comes out on top – you’ve won.
When you’re writing your novel or screenplay, your second edit should be the theme edit, essentially a checklist. You can put it in the chapter summary of Scrivener as you go through it – did this chapter reinforce – if only slightly – the theme? If the answer is no, rework that chapter to make sure the theme is there, and furthered slightly by the plot elements.
Theme must be present in your books.