A cardinal principle of good fiction [is]: the theme and the plot of a novel must be integrated—as thoroughly integrated as mind and body or thought and action in a rational view of man.The link between the theme and the events of a novel is an element which I call the plot-theme. It is the first step of the translation of an abstract theme into a story, without which the construction of a plot would be impossible. A "plot-theme" is the central conflict or "situation" of a story—a conflict in terms of action, corresponding to the theme and complex enough to create a purposeful progression of events.The theme of a novel is the core of its abstract meaning—the plot-theme is the core of its events. Where is the incoherency in this idea? It stems from how Rand utilizes it in her criticism of novels she doesn't like. Consider what she says about Dreiser's An American Tragedy:
A related, though somewhat different, example of a bad novel is An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. Here, the author attempts to give significance to a trite story by tacking on a theme which is not related to or demonstrated by its events. The events deal with an age old subject: the romantic problem of a rotten little weakling who murders his pregnant sweetheart, a working girl, in order ... to marry a rich heiress. The alleged theme, according to the author's assertion, is: "The evil of capitalism."Rand here commits the error of confusing the author's intended theme with the actual theme manifested in the author's story. In other words, Dreiser's alleged theme is entirely irrelevant to the merit (or lack of merit) of An American Tragedy. Even if that novel fails to demonstrate the evils of capitalism, that in itself wouldn't make it a "bad novel." The integration of theme and plot is entirely irrelevant. Every plot will have a theme, regardless of the author's intentions. Since every story has a theme, integration of theme and plot is a built in feature. It works regardless of what the author intended. Indeed, the author's intentions are of no consequence whatsoever; what is important is the final result. A novel cannot be judged because it turned out different from what the author originally intended. If Dreiser had never claimed that the theme of An American Tragedy was "The evil of capitalism," none of us would be any the wiser and Rand could not have used the work as an example of a bad novel that misintegrates the theme and the plot.