Apparently I have a dwindling supply of stories in my arsenal. In response to this surprising shortage, I’ve been working on new material. This is good as it gives my brain a break from my novel as I let it stew but also because it allows me to explore new ideas. One plan I had was to take a look at some unfinished stories, see what might be worth is saving, and finishing them. Another plan, one that I’ve embraced, was to take a look at markets with some kind of theme.
It was this week I realized what the appeal of themed magazine issues or anthologies is to me. They’re an opportunity to test and stretch my creativity but in a way it feels like some of the work has partially been done for me. For whatever reason, it’s difficult for me to come up with short story ideas on my own. Ideas for novels are really easy. Perhaps they gum up my head so much that there isn’t any room left to dream up short stories.
Having a theme or prompt for short stories seems to activate something in my brain. Somehow, some way, I get inspired. It’s as if the creativity light bulb pops on. Maybe this harkens to my school days when I enjoyed writing essays and papers. The teacher was giving us direction and I responded well to that. So I guess it makes sense that train of thought would transfer over to creative writing. The challenge of it is far harder, though. Unlike school, I don’t have anything already studied or known.
Something I think is important for a writer is to stretch their limits and write in a different genre. For me, following genre-specific theme helps narrow down to me what to focus on. Even if the theme isn’t genre specific, for example the theme of Nature, that is still something to help get my brain thinking. I enjoy the challenge of it because I force myself to go away from what I’m comfortable with but also to see if I can come up with a twist.
Since I’m not a genius nor am I a Renaissance woman, the other appeal of themed short stories is I usually have to do some kind of research. I don’t have to go into anything hugely in depth; mostly I stick to a quick Wikipedia search and a few other places. Too much research overwhelms me and unless I’m doing a novel, there isn’t too much of a need to go into any kind of depth. For example, a recent story I wrote was for an anthology with the theme of the 1939’s World’s Fair. They were specifically looking for stories that developed the idea of what the future would look like. Although the story was (nicely) rejected, it was fun gathering research since I didn’t know anything about the World’s Fair. The great thing about the internet is the ease of access to information including images. I’m thankful for whoever digitized images from the 1939’s World’s Fair because it was those images which inspired me.
While on the subject of research for these short stories, I love seeing that marriage of various avenues come together to help me write a short story. The research leads to image searches which then allow me to brainstorm ideas. While I’m brainstorming and writing, I try to find an appropriate music playlist or two to help put me in the right frame of mind.
Another benefit of writing to a theme is if the story gets rejected for its original target, the story is now available to submit elsewhere. Instant problem solve. Plus it also means that more markets are open to me which means I have more chances of having a story picked up for publication.
I love the fun and unique challenges themed short story writing brings to me. Even if my attempt isn’t successfully executed, it’s worth the risk. Not only does it stave off boredom and complacency (ha, like that could ever happen to me but I digress), it helps flex my creative muscles in areas I normally wouldn’t think of. In a way it is a ‘safe’ risk, a way to dip one’s toes into a different pool which could possibly lead to a different artistic path. And sometimes a theme can give me an excuse to explore an emotion or different side of me I normally might be too tentative to try.