A Different Approach To The Theme – Guest Post by Jaq D Hawkins…

I was first published in magazines in the 1980s, writing non-fiction articles for occult publications. I became a regular contributor to one magazine in particular, Mezlim, that had issue themes. These were esoterica (no not erotica, big difference!) and I always made a point of thinking about what most contributors were likely to say about the issue topic and look for a completely different angle.

This carried forward when I started contributing to fiction anthologies many years later. Most of these have been in support of various charities, beginning with my contributions to two issues of Of Words and Water, in support of Wateraid [https://www.wateraid.org]. The 2013 issue had a fairly open theme of anything to do with water.

In looking for a different approach from what any of the other contributors were likely to come up with, I wrote a story connected with my Fantasy world in The Goblin Trilogy and wrote a background story for a character who is a water goblin. The Story is called Le’ina’s Sorrow and is now available on line at my Meat For The Storytellingblog [https://jaqdhawkins.wordpress.com/about/] where I put a few related short stories.

The second issue in 2014 had a tighter theme, Many Nations One World. For this one I made use of some research I’d been doing for a science fiction novel and set my story on a Moon colony, where water had to be recycled, apart from one fast food restaurant on the base that carried bottled water shipped up from Earth. The realism might have been iffy, but the story included characters from several nations and was certainly different from all the others set on Earth!

I do read anthologies often and am always amazed at the originality writers can apply to a common theme. One I read a couple years ago had a Lava theme and though I wasn’t a contributor, I did enjoy the variety of approaches the various writers brought to the volume. The theme naturally had a lot of volcano and earthquake stories. Thinking about what I would have done differently if I had been submitting, something underground along the lines of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth or rays from space melting rock comes to mind!

It only takes a few minutes of sitting and thinking about alternative approaches to come up with an original angle for a subject. When I wrote stories for the Elements of Horror series from Red Cape Publishing, I did tie in goblin stories for the Earth and Water volumes, but for Air and Fire I knew that most contributors would have hurricanes and tornadoes for Air and horrific fire damage for Fire, so I intentionally took a different approach.

I looked up an obscure air spirit in Italian mythology called a Wind Folletti and set my air story in Venice, a place that holds some fascination for me. For fire, again, I used an elemental spirit rather than going with a fire out of control theme. These were Horror collections so needed some disturbing aspect at the core of the plot.

When I was asked to contribute to a Fantasy anthology with a more obvious theme, Dragons, again I took an unusual approach. As much as I love a good dragon story, for this one I had my characters seeing cloud formations that looked like a dragon and tied it into my Airship Pirates series.

When the same editor decided to do an anthology with a theme of strong female protagonists, rather than another warrior woman as many would create, I made my protagonist an Alchemist who lived in her own wizard’s tower. Ironically, with a dragon companion.

Thinking out an approach off the beaten path is not only a good writing exercise, it also increases your chances of getting your story accepted for a submission call. If an editor has dozens of stories with a similar idea, probably only one of them will make the cut, but the unusual story will stand out and better serve the balance of a collection.

Do you submit stories to anthologies? What is your process for deciding your plot for a theme? let’s chat in the comments!

Jaq D Hawkins

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