Definition: A central idea or main theme has the general purpose of tying together all elements used by an author to tell a story or deliver a message.
What Is a Central Idea and Why Is It Needed?
At its most basic level, a central idea is what your entire piece is about. It should be something that you can discuss in detail and have a good amount of knowledge or experience with.
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, having a clear central idea driving your narrative is an essential focal point for your message.
In fiction writing, a central idea is instrumental in moving, engaging and, ultimately, entertaining your readers. When it comes to nonfiction, your central idea is necessary to inspire your target audience and motivate them to take a desired action.
In either case, a well-written central idea will help you keep your content organized. On the other hand, without it, your writing will feel disjointed and lack focus.
In this article, we’ll explore what a central idea is and why it’s so important, as well as tips on how to develop a strong central idea from scratch.
The Benefits of Having a Strong Central Idea
Having a strong central idea is important for a number of reasons.
First of all, it enables you to focus your writing and avoid straying off-topic, which will likely disengage your readers.
If you’re not crystal clear about what your main idea is, in other words, if you “sort of” know where you want to get to but haven’t taken the time to fully develop your idea, you won’t be able to effectively communicate it to your readers.
In short, if it’s fuzzy in your mind, it’ll also be fuzzy in theirs.
Additionally, if you’re trying to cover multiple main ideas simultaneously, you’ll be taking your readers through a roller coaster of confusion that will ultimately lead to attrition (this is the old “pick a plot line” critique.)
On the other hand, having a clear central thesis makes it a lot easier to build logical arguments and come up with supporting details that strengthen your narrative and that are believable in the eyes of your readers.
Finally, a well-developed central idea will help make your writing more memorable by engaging readers and drawing them in with interesting concepts and thought-provoking messages.
How to Develop a Strong Central Idea
To develop a strong central idea, start by taking the thirty-thousand foot view of what you want readers to get out of your fiction story or nonfiction piece.
For a work of fiction, your central idea or main theme is the overall message you want to convey to your readers. This idea should be a unifying element that drives your narrative and dictates the emotional journey of your story’s main character or characters.
This theme will need to impact all the elements in your story, including your characters, the plot, the setting, internal conflict, external conflict, even your choice of words.
For example, your central idea could revolve around concepts like redemption, finding love, the battle between good and evil, and so on.
For a work of nonfiction, your central idea will define the key message, concept, or technique driving your piece. Perhaps, it’s about overcoming procrastination, a revolutionary new technique for weight loss, a new child rearing approach, etc.
To develop a strong nonfiction central idea, start by brainstorming topics surrounding your subject of interest that you feel would be of service to your audience.
From there, consider what questions or gaps in your knowledge still need to be addressed, and what unique perspective you can bring to the table.
Once you’ve settled on an idea that you feel confident about, you can put together your thesis statement, which should be a clear and concise summary of what your piece will focus on, including what key arguments you’ll be making throughout your writing.
Now, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’ll want to focus on a central idea that’s unique compared to your competition in order to stand out from the crowd.
So, before you begin writing in earnest, you’ll need to spend a decent amount of time researching what other writers have done on the theme or topic you’re writing about to ensure that you’re not reinventing the wheel.
Your goal is to explore new and interesting angles or approaches that haven’t been tackled before, at least not in a similar way and not to write about a topic or a theme that’s been already covered to death.
Examples of Central Ideas in Fiction
In the world of fiction, a central idea needs to be a springboard for exploring larger themes and deeper questions through the emotional journey of your story’s main characters.
For example, questions about what it means to be loved, what it means to belong, what impact we have on those around us, and so on.
Whether exploring heartbreak, ethical dilemmas, or existential crises, the examples below serve as powerful illustrations of how popular fiction writers use a central idea to engage readers and keep them invested in the story:
A clear example of a central idea in fiction writing can be seen in J.K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter series. In these books, the main theme revolves around the battle between good and evil, supported by the struggle to overcome obstacles and adversity.
Other aspects that are explored throughout the series that also support the central idea, include friendship, love, courage, sacrifice, and redemption. Overall, these themes help to define what makes Rowling’s work so compelling and engaging for readers of all ages.
Another example of a central idea in fiction writing can be seen in George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984”. Here, we see a world that’s ruled by totalitarianism and constant surveillance, where individuals must face repression as a way of life and be rewarded by torture should they dare think independently.
Through these gripping themes and complex characters, Orwell illustrates how hard it is to maintain one’s humanity in the midst of a repressive society bent on destroying it, making this an enduring classic that continues to resonate with readers today.
Examples of Central Ideas in Nonfiction
In the world of nonfiction, a central idea needs to be the dominant impression your target audience is left with after reading your work, which should address and solve a problem they’re experiencing.
Whether providing solutions for financial, psychological, relationship or health-related problems, the examples below showcase how popular nonfiction writers use a central idea to inform, encourage and inspire readers:
12 Rules for Life
A great example of a strong central idea in nonfiction writing comes from Jordan Peterson’s bestseller “12 Rules for Life”.
In this book, Peterson offers readers his personal philosophy on life, which is based on the principle that individuals must take responsibility for their own lives and actions.
Through this lens, Peterson explores complex topics such as masculinity, religion, and psychology.
His honest and uncompromising approach makes “12 Rules for Life” a compelling and thought-provoking read for readers of all backgrounds.
The Millionaire Fastlane
Another example of a powerful and well-done central idea in a nonfiction book comes from MJ Demarco’s “The Millionaire Fastlane”.
Here, Demarco argues that the traditional path to wealth and success is no longer viable in today’s economy.
Instead, he suggests that individuals should aim to become self-made millionaires through creative entrepreneurship.
This unique perspective makes “The Millionaire Fastlane” an engaging and thought-provoking read as well.
Tips on How to Develop a Strong Central Idea
So how can you go about developing a strong central idea for your writing project?
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Your central idea statement needs to be unique for your niche, be it fiction or nonfiction. You don’t want your readers to ever think “seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt.” Now, it’s okay to write about universal themes, just make sure to develop a unique angle that’s your own
- Don’t introduce new ideas or stray too far from your original thesis statement without proper justification
- Stay focused on your central idea throughout your entire work, making sure all of your arguments are related back to it
- If you’re writing nonfiction, back up your central idea with the use of examples and evidence to support your points
- Finally, get feedback from test readers before submitting your work for publication or consideration, to make sure your writing really resonates with them
Developing a strong central idea is essential for any piece of writing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.
With careful thought and planning you’ll be able to create a central idea that’ll help guide your argument in the right direction, engaging, inspiring and entertaining your readers.
By researching topics that interest you and following the tips and examples illustrated above, you’ll be able to craft a powerful central idea that’ll make your writing stand out from the crowd!
Harry Wallett is the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing. Combining his entrepreneurial background with a love of great stories, Harry founded Relay in 2013 as a fresh way to create books and for writers to earn a living from their work. Since then, Relay has sold 3+ million copies and worked with 100s of writers on bestselling titles such as Defending Innocence, The Alveria Dragon Akademy Series and Rancher’s Family Christmas.
Harry oversees the creative direction of the company, and works to develop a supportive collaborative environment for the Relay team to thrive within in order to fulfill our mission to create unputdownable books.
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