I really enjoy stories with a strong central theme, where all the character development, plot, worldbuilding etc. revolve around that one key idea or mood.

What is a good word I can use to describe such a story?

I want to capture the idea of 1) a strong central focus, and 2) every part having the same ultimate purpose of developing that focus. Preferably the word would have a complimentary sense to it that captures the satisfaction of the unity in such a work.

"Cohesive" just makes it sound like the different parts of the story work well together, not necessarily that they work well together towards a common goal.

"Focused" highlights how the story is very concerned with a particular subject, but not how all the different parts work together harmoniously to develop that subject.

"Unity" is close, but it's a kind of still, passive word; I'm not sure it adequately communicates the idea of actively working towards a common goal. It also feels strange to say that a story "has unity" or "is unified".

Sample sentence:

"This novel is ____; every character's journey is about some aspect of responsibility."

  • Off the top of my head, the best I can offer is systematic. Let me mull on it. – Dan Bron Mar 12 '16 at 12:33
  • I would offer synergistic myself. – John Clifford Mar 12 '16 at 12:36
  • @JohnClifford How do you feel about holistic in this context? – Dan Bron Mar 12 '16 at 13:19
  • @DanBron I'm not sure I'd go with that, since holistic is more about the belief that things are interconnected, rather than the interconnection they have. – John Clifford Mar 12 '16 at 13:20
  • @JohnClifford Yeah, I can see that as a valid criticism. – Dan Bron Mar 12 '16 at 13:21

This could be called artistic unity.

  • +1 Great answer. That condition of a successful literary work whereby all its elements work together for the achievement of its central purpose. In an artistically unified work nothing is included that is irrelevant to the central purpose, nothing is omitted that is essential to it, and the parts are arranged in the most effective order for the achievement of that purpose. Source – NVZ Mar 12 '16 at 13:19
  • 2
    These answers are pretty coactive if you ask me. – John Clifford Mar 12 '16 at 13:25
  • This could be a good answer, but it needs supporting evidence that it is used in the way OP requests, rather than that it is used at all. Also, references need attributing. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 12 '16 at 20:49

Consider Coaction (Coactive is the adjective)

Joint work toward a common end; collaboration, cooperation, synergy, teamwork.

"This novel is coactive"

If you can accept phrases too, @TimRomano has a good answer "artistic unity"

  • 1
    I've never heard this work before, neat! Plus one! – Dan Bron Mar 12 '16 at 12:50
  • Very nice, I didn't know this one either. – Emily Catáulay Mar 12 '16 at 13:13
  • +1 from me as well, I wasn't aware of this term. It's a lot less clunky-sounding than synergy. – John Clifford Mar 12 '16 at 13:17
  • Zero Google hits for 'This novel is coactive' before this post. I'd wager that 'coactive' means 'working together towards a common end', which would discount 'novel' as a possible subject. In fact, YourDictionary gives 'acting in concurrence; united in action'. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 12 '16 at 20:44
  • @EdwinAshworth I'm aware of that. I will remove this once there's a better answer. – NVZ Mar 12 '16 at 20:45

How about symbiotic, as in a symbiotic relationship?


1 - Involving interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association.

       E.g.: The fungi form symbiotic associations with the roots of plant species.

               1.1 - Denoting a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.

                        E.g.: The reader can have a symbiotic relationship with the writer.

(Oxford Dictionaries Online)

  • Hi, Steve. The word you nominate may very well b a good choice, but the goal of this site is to provide not merely suggestions that may be good, but suggestions backed by documented support (dictionary definitions, in the case of answers to single-word requests). To reach that standard, you would need to add a dictionary definition (citing the dictionary by name and including a link, if possible) of symbiotic to your answer. The point of this standard isn't to make extra work for anwerers; it's to produce self-explanatory answers that don't require readers to go elsewhere to make sense of. – Sven Yargs Mar 12 '16 at 18:38
  • @Kyle: Nice job of filling in an appropriate definition (and crediting the source). Steve: The addition Kyle made to your answer greatly increases its completeness and authoritativeness as an answer. I hope you'll consider providing similar documentation to future answers you submit. – Sven Yargs Mar 14 '16 at 16:50

Try coherent.

Coherent, definition by M-W
2 : having the quality of holding together or cohering; especially : cohesive, coordinated
Examples of coherent in a sentence … the diaries and the novels demonstrate how a novelist tweaks and grooms reality into something more structured and coherent than life as it is lived. —Penelope Lively, Atlantic, February 2001

The above example accompanies the dictionary entry. Here's another example from a google search of "coherent novel". Although this is a negative example (an example of a novel that is said to not be coherent), note the reason - it's because it fails to interweave the plot strands in the way you describe:

The Times said "Yellow Dog marks a further plummeting in his literary trajectory [...] Interweaving all [the plot strands] into a compelling or indeed coherent novel proves beyond Amis's capabilities [...] Wonkily put together, his book is also copiously second-hand. Most of the material in it has been used by Amis before." - wikipedia, ellipses and terms quoted verbatim from wikipedia.

Your sample sentence would look like this:

"This novel is coherent; every character's journey is about some aspect of responsibility."

  • The problem with "coherent" is that, to me, it just implies a basic level of connectedness/working together. A novel must be "coherent" to be a decent novel at all. But not all novels need to have the kind of "artistic unity" I'm trying to find a word for. (The example sentence from the Times seems to imply this, too.) – Emily Catáulay Mar 13 '16 at 3:49
  • @EmilyCatáulay I see what you mean. Coherence has the required definition even in relation to artistic unity but the connotation doesn't carry so strongly. If it helps, I had in mind the notion of lasers being coherent light - the different 'strands' of light (speaking artistically, not scientifically) work together so effectively that the result can even cut / burn through solids. – Lawrence Mar 13 '16 at 8:46
  • @EmilyCatáulay What do you think of the term teleologic? – Lawrence Mar 13 '16 at 10:35
  • Calling a story "teleologic" would tend to imply that the story as a whole has a purpose, not that each individual element has the same unified purpose. Close though... – Emily Catáulay Mar 15 '16 at 4:23

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