Identifying Theme—Toy Story

This article was originally published in The Writer’s Everything, Issue #012.

While there are countless aspects of writing a story, three stand out above all the others. They are the cornerstones on which fiction stands. 

What are they? Plot, characters, and theme. 

The third cornerstone, theme, is often avoided at all costs. Writers don’t like it, and they don’t understand it (usually in reverse order). This is a problem that makes sense. Stories rarely lend themselves to be described with theme the way they can be described with plot and characters. 

So is theme pointless? Absolutely not. In an Arby’s Melt, where characters are the roast beef and plot is the bread, theme is the succulent melted cheese that ties it all together. If you want a story that is meaningful, resonating, and significant, you have to put just as much work into theme as you do the other two cornerstones, if not more. 

Now let me be honest. I appreciate theme. I think about it all the time when I’m writing my fiction. However, I am far from an expert in the field. So this series of articles is going to be a journey of discovery for us all. If I ever get anything wrong, or miss something of great significance, please feel free to send me an email at, and together, we can build each other up in the topic of theme. 

Toy Story

For my sophomoric, but hopefully not sophomoric, entry in the Identifying Themes series, I’d like to take a look at Pixar’s amazing foray into the world of three-dimensional computer animation. 

There had never been anything like Toy Story when it was released in 1995. It even managed to accomplish something that many rival studios failed at for years afterwards, which is to appeal to both younger and older viewers. The reason for this is, primarily, because of the high quality of the storytelling and character development.

While this film can easily be described as a buddy film, it’s really Woody’s adventure that drives the development of the theme over the course of the story. 

It was a journey of self-discovery, as well as finding and accepting his purpose in life. Up to the start of the film, Woody had always been Andy’s favorite. That became the norm in his entire life, and he basically served as the leader of all the toys.

So it’s during this adventure that he learns that he doesn’t have to be the favorite to have a fulfilling and meaningful life.

The Writer’s Everything

This article, as well as many others, have been featured in previous issues of my writing journal, The Writer’s Everything, in which I, along with occasional guest contributors, provide essays, guides, encouragement, motivation, writing prompts, character bio development kits, and anything else that can help you turn your dream of becoming a writer into a reality.

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