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In music, a theme is the initial or primary melody. After the principal theme is announced, a second melody, sometimes called a countertheme or secondary theme, may play. In a three-part fugue, the principal theme is announced three times in three different voices -- soprano, alto, bass -- or some variation of that. In a four-part fugue, the principal motif is announced four times. A motif is a short melodic figure used repeatedly which may be used to construct a theme. A leitmotif is a motif or theme associated with a person, place, or idea.

In literature, a theme is the main idea of the story, or the message the author is conveying. This message is usually about life, society or human nature. Not all stories have explicit themes (they are optional in escape fiction). However, some readers would say that, because all stories choose certain areas of life to focus on and deal with, all stories inherently project some kind of outlook on life that can be taken as a theme, regardless of whether or not this is the intent of the author.

General rules for stating a theme are:

  1. Use complete sentences.
  2. Make a point about a specific topic. For example, the statements that the theme is love is incorrect- what about love?
  3. Do not use names. Instead use one, a person, people, etc.
  4. Do not use absolutes such as: always, never, everyone, must, everybody, etc.
  5. Do not use cliches, e.g. Crime doesn't pay.
  6. Do not give lessons or morals.
  7. A theme must be based on and supported by the entire story.