Anyone who’s been in a formal writing class has heard the advice: never start with theme. Well, to misquote the great Samuel Johnson, only a fool ever wrote but for a cause. Writers always have something to communicate: a story, a point of view, a sense of empathy, or a lesson. The trick isn’t to simply not have a theme, and somehow find it later as if you were picking out meaning from a piece of modern art (we all know how well that works, looking at you, Jackson Pollock).

The trick is to write your story around a theme, then to hide that theme very well, the way you’d hide your dog’s prescription meds in a tasty beef treat or a roll of peanut butter.

First, however, you must have something to hide.

Finding Your Theme

It’s not hard to find your theme – it’s that thing in the world that nags at you, like a bit of beef between your teeth. Every time you see the left going after it again, you feel your blood pressure rise. You know all the arguments on both sides, and you know which argument makes sense.

It’s the Second Amendment. Or it’s the right to life. Or it’s the way the Bible is disrespected in contemporary culture. Or the unfairness in the way the left supports their right to, oh, use violent rhetoric or filibuster but utterly condemns it when conservatives use the exact same tools.

This idea that makes your blood boil is where you start your story. It is the power, the engine, behind your story. Channel it well, and your story will make an impact.

For me, for instance, that idea often concerns feminism. I consider myself a feminist in the same sense a lot of conservatives consider themselves to be classically liberal: I believe in the foundational principles of feminism and abhor the way those principles have been warped out of recognition by modern practitioners. For example, I believe in equal legal protection for the sexes, but not in Title IX – a regulation that unfairly gives women resources by taking them away from men. I believe in reproductive freedom and that women have a right to own their sexuality, but not in Roe v. Wade – a ruling that also gave women more power over their children than men have while simultaneously inventing the stunningly irresponsible idea that woman, like God, can not only create, but also destroy, life with moral impunity. Men certainly can’t destroy life, ANY life, and not face legal, moral, and spiritual consequences. Why do we pretend women can?

I can start with this idea – that women have more legal rights and power than men in contemporary society – as my theme. Note a few things: it’s not just “abortion is wrong” or “Title IX programs destroy sports programs.” My theme here is a simply and generically stated but PROVOCATIVE line that immediately encourages argument. Not everyone will agree with me. Not even everyone on the right will agree with me. That makes it a perfect theme for my subtly polemic story.

Once you have a clear and provocative theme, then you build your story plot line around it – it’s the tent-pole of the teepee. For my sample theme above, I might start with a courtroom drama – a man is suing his wife to prevent her having an abortion. Or I might write space opera: from a dying Earth, more women than men are chosen to colonize a planet because it only takes a single bull for a whole herd, y’know? (Ignoring the biological ramifications of a limited gene pool, of course. But then, what’s liberalism without a little science denial in the name of “fair”?) Or I might do a romance – a female college coach is resented by the male football coach because her team sucks down an outsized proportion of athletic funding – funding his championship team has amply provided the school through media and advertising contracts.

You can see, I hope, how theme could power any of these ideas.

Now here’s the beauty: you choose your theme, embed your theme, and then forget about it. You have a plot. You have characters. Your theme will naturally populate the story with no additional attention from you.

That is how to write stealthcon – fiction that is subversively conservative or conservatarian without being polemic or preachy. It’s a virus, in a way – it is introduced unobtrusively, smuggled in by your story, seeming to be entirely innocent or benign. And then, as the story unwraps, the idea payload is delivered. The reader finds himself considering a conservative point of view, without even realizing it.

Stealthcon is a great way to change the culture.



Create a fresh new story. It can be a short story (a good way to test waters when experimenting with theme) or a novel or anything you like. Create your compelling theme. Write it down.

Now come up with a plot idea for that theme. Keeping the plot to a single line, write that down as well.

Write your story beginning, 200 words.

Submit the whole thing for critique.

In critiquing, consider first whether this story idea would work as stealthcon – a good story that has an obscured conservative theme. Consider second – and more importantly – whether this is a good story. Where does it work, and where could it fail?



Part 1: Point of View: Whose Story Is It?

Part 2: Healing Wordiness and Making Yourself Clear


Photo by Free-Photos (Pixabay)