Connecting Characters, Plot & Themes in a Text

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Stories, books, and plays are illustrated through the plot, which is the sequence of events; the characters, who are the people in the story; and the theme, which is the author's message about life. Learn how to connect the characters, plot, and themes and achieve symbiosis in written text. Updated: 10/21/2021


Before we talk about literature, let's take a moment to reflect on biology. That might sound like a stretch to you, but I promise, I'll pull it all together in the end. In biology, there's a term for unlike creatures who live together and help each other. This term is symbiosis.

You've probably seen that animated movie about the clown fish who goes on an epic quest to find his son. Clown fish live in symbiotic harmony with sea anemones. The clown fish eats tiny organisms that could harm the sea anemone, and in return, it protects the clown fish by stinging predators. The sea anemone even eats the waste that floats out of the clown fish. Gross! But you see, as unlike as they are, they need each other. Just keep swimming with me a little more, and I'll bring it all together.

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  • 0:01 Symbiosis
  • 0:57 Symbiosis in Literature
  • 2:12 How Stories Work
  • 3:19 Lesson Summary
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Symbiosis in Literature

Stories, books, and plays in literature have some things in common. They all have plot, theme, and characters. Plot is the sequence of events; you know, it's what happens in a story. The characters are the people in the story, although they don't have to be human to be characters - think of our little animated clown fish friend. The theme is the author's message about life. Going back to our previous example, the clown fish, his father, and his air-headed buddy are all characters who go on a series of adventures and learn the valuable life lesson 'never give up,' or as one fish puts it, 'just keep swimming.'

The question we ask in school is how do plot, theme, and characters all relate to each other? And here's the payoff! Symbiosis. Plot, theme, and characters are totally different things, but they work together and help each other out to make the story effective. And, like the clown fish and the sea anemone, they can't get along on their own. Imagine a story with no characters, or one with no theme! What would be the point of reading it? If a story has no plot, then nothing happens. There are some writers who have tried creating works without plot, theme, or characters, but the vast majority of stories have all three.

How Stories Work

Here's how they function. To make a theme really hit home, the reader has to come to believe in it. And authors want to make their themes hit home because that's what makes the story memorable and successful. You have a character say, 'just keep swimming,' but if the reader doesn't feel it, the theme doesn't sink in. The writer makes you feel it by first getting you attached to the character.

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