Your thematic metaphor is the unifying idea that emerges as the meaning behind your characters’ adventures in their story world. Once you have identified your story’s thematic principle, the real work begins. How will you seamlessly join theme to plot?
Masterful authors create stories that, on their surfaces, may seem to be entirely plot—and yet are deeply thematic. They do this by getting their readers or viewers to feel and think deeply without being obvious about it. The seams with which they connect theme to plot are held together with invisible threads of highly sophisticated metaphor.
The Power of Thematic Metaphor in Storytelling
The metaphor is one of the most utilitarian techniques in a writer’s tool bag. We use it most simply in basic sentence constructions when describing via comparison (I’ve used the technique twice already in this post—in comparing metaphor to binding threads and in referencing a writer’s skill set as a “tool bag”). At its most macro (and indeed meta) level, story itself is nothing more than a large-scale metaphor; authors create made-up people going on made-up adventures as descriptive metaphors for real life.
It’s no surprise that somewhere in between the sentence level and the story level, we find yet another repetition of the pattern. This is where we come upon the powerful technique of molding plot into a visual, external metaphor for the story’s invisible, internal theme.
This interpretation of story can be applied with varying levels of explicitness.