Themes, to me is the underlying message of the story. Or something that it implies through certain elements in a story.
A theme itself, can deepen the story and understanding. Provided it is applied correctly and used well. It can be something intentional or accidental, the latter being values that you value and thus becomes a part of your work.
It isn’t necessary, as some works do not and tend to be pure fun and entertainment. But themes can give your story a lot more added depth, and if you identify it, you can simply expand on what was there.
And here are some ways for me to identify some themes.
#1 Look at your characters
We give each character a piece of ourselves. That has never been more true. Look at the characters of a particular work, and see what are the underlying similarities.
And what are their endings and outcomes. Or what do they do to impact the plot. There, you can see something even if it may not be much.
#2 Your main conflict
Your main conflict would reveal what are some of the core themes that would be seen in your story. Is it against some dark overlord? Or is it something more subtle? Dealing with loss, grief, or perhaps coming to terms with their own mistakes.
What would your main character learn from it? And what is the main villain’s purpose. Looking at all these things can help to show you the core elements and what are things that is present. Against a dark overlord, can be twisted into many ways. Other than the being classically evil.
Such as the fact that the main character was wrong, and the overlord was simply doing what he needed. Or he is actually doing what he can to save the world. Like I said, the elements of your story and the twists would show the themes behind it and give you a clearer idea to focus.
#3 Your main character’s growth
A main character should always be growing, and their growth can be related to a certain theme. Or is there some underlying message there?
Themes to me, need not be shoved into the face. But handled with nuance, and carefully woven. And the main character’s growth can be the main key in this. As growth is always subtle, and to me, should always be about the main character making a choice or the decision.
Overall, here are the ways that I use to identify the themes of my work.