Writing to a Theme by Carol L. Wright
Remember back in school when the teacher would give you an assignment to write on a particular theme? Something along the lines of “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” or “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up”?
Well, for those of us who grow up to be writers, those assignments never end—especially if we write short stories. Many publications will accept short stories, but only on a prescribed theme. That was the case last winter with Kaye George’s call for submissions for an anthology of eclipse stories, entitled DAY OF THE DARK: STORIES OF ECLIPSE from Wildside Press.
So how do you write a story to that theme? For me, there are several steps:
1. Consider alternate meaning
First I played with the words of the theme—doing a little free association. What spin could I get from Day of the Dark? Darkness . . . night . . . evil . . . blindness . . . Being left “in the dark” about something appealed to me, so I had my starting point.
2. Include required elements
Since I had to tie it to the eclipse, I had to learn more about it: what it would look like, and where and when it would be visible. I knew that before astronomers understood the physics of the event, eclipses were seen as portents of evil or destruction. Surely, that’s a good start—especially since Kaye also wanted the stories to have a mystery element.
3. Explore other treatments of the theme
Going online, I found many quotations about eclipses, but the one that suited me best was from John Milton’s Samson Agonistes:
Oh dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon
Irrecoverable dark, total Eclipse
Without all hope of day!”
Now that’s something I can sink my pen into!
4. Open up more possibilities
“What if’s” are a writer’s best friend. What if there is only one chance to get a picture of something special, but because of the eclipse, there isn’t enough light for it to come out? Or what if, like Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet, someone is born during a solar eclipse and expects to die during the next one? These ideas feed the imagination.
For my story, I went with “What if a husband and a wife were each keeping the other ‘in the dark’ about some life-changing information?” Kind of piques your curiosity, doesn’t it? I hope so!
5. Figure out my characters
Okay—I have a husband and a wife who are not being completely forthcoming with one another. How old are they? How long have they been married? Are they happy? Do they have kids? Where do they live? Where do they work?
6. The fun part—write the first draft
I’m what we writers call a “pantser,” meaning I write from the “seat of my pants” rather than following an outline. I love the crazy, messy, imaginative experience of writing a story without really knowing all the twists and turns it might take in advance. It gives me moments of surprise as my characters say or do things I never saw coming. It feels almost collaborative, and it is usually a lot of fun.
7. The work part—editing
Like many writers, I sometimes find extra words, dangling plot threads, or inconsistencies (probably in part because I’m a pantser). I go through the entire story several times, hoping to catch all the problems, leaving a smooth, coherent, and interesting story that is within the prescribed word count.
Then I might take it to my critique group. They pore over it and give me their perspectives on word choices, plot twists, errors, and omissions. If I’m hitting a snag, their help is indispensable.
After a bit more polish, I’m ready to submit it.
8. The waiting part
It always takes a while for journal or anthology editors to read through the many submissions and make decisions about which to include in their books or journals. And then it takes more time for the publisher to work its magic and produce a finished issue or a book you can hold in your hands.
But it is definitely worth the wait.
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Carol L. Wright is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and academic. She is the author of articles and one book on law-related subjects. Now focused on fiction, she has several short stories in literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Her new novel, Death in Glenville Falls, is now available. ( https://www.amazon.com/Death-Glenville-Falls-McIntyre-Mysteries/dp/0974289132) It is the first in her Gracie McIntyre Mystery series.
She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC (http://bethlehemwritersgroup.com), is a life member of both Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of SinC Guppies, PennWriters, and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.
Raised in Massachusetts, she is married to her college sweetheart. They now live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog and a clowder of cats. You can follow her Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/Carol-L-Wright-Author-190854476717/) or learn more on her website: (http://carollwright.com).
6 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Carol L. Wright – Writing to a Theme”
Ah, a fellow pantser. Thanks for sharing your process.
Glad you stopped by…. love meeting fellow pantsers. And learning from Carol.
Thanks Dan and Debra. It’s a crazy way to write, isn’t it? But so much fun! Love it!
Thanks Debra! This is a helpful article.
Great analysis of the birth of a short story! Thanks for your contribution to DAY OF THE DARK, too.
Thank you, Kaye, for making DAY OF THE DARK possible!