Put one way: if the “high concept” is what is this story about?, then the theme is what is this story trying to say?
Shawn stresses that a good controlling idea, or theme, should meet the following criteria:
A controlling idea/theme must be boiled down to the fewest possible words and cannot be longer than a one-sentence statement.
A controlling idea/theme must describe the climactic value charge of the entire Story, either positively or negatively.
And it must be as specific as possible about the cause of the change in the value charge.
So given that, how about the following:
In one of the articles linked above, Shawn concludes that the controlling idea for romantic comedy is simply Love conquers all.
In contrast, the controlling idea for romantic tragedy is Love conquers all…except Death. (Ask the Capulets and the Montagus, if you so doubt.)
Love. Death. His ideas got me thinking, even about trauma and War.
So try this one out:
Until, and even in spite of, Death, Love conquers all it can.
Let me say it this way:
Anyone who has experienced any severe trauma—and especially anyone who has faced moments of War in which everything changes in a moment, with absolutely nothing that can be done about it—knows into the depths of the soul that, indeed, Love will not conquer all.
Upon their return to the “normal” world, however, many are not so sure whether or not, in fact, Love can conquer anything worthwhile if, in the end, it cannot conquer Death.
I would have you consider that anyone who finds relief from the trauma of War must, in some way, come to know in the same depths of the soul that Love (or, if you like better, meaningful connection with others) will conquer what it can, over and over again, if only one is brave enough to reach out and take its hand.
Love cannot change the past. But the future?
Well, there’s a story to that, a brain story that just happens to boldly go where, fortunately, many have gone before—but perhaps not in quite such a, shall we say, Enterprise-ing way.
On to genre.