Tag Archives: writing to a theme

The Jones Kerfuffle (and why we need a theme) #amwriting

I had intended to do a dissertation on the “Jones Kerfuffle” today, but the importance of theme also reared its head. So, here are the highlights of the Jones debate and the facts as presented by Merriam-Webster Online. (Theme follows Jones because we’re doing this alphabetically.)

  • You can visit the Jones family
  • You can go to the Jones’ house or the Jones’s
  • You can buy a boat from Bob Jones.
  • You can try keeping up with the Joneses, but the Smiths will out do you every time.

Merriam-Webster Online says:

The plurals of last names are just like the plurals of most nouns. They typically get formed by adding -s. Except, that is, if the name already ends in s or z. Then the plural is formed by adding -es.

the Smith clan → the Smiths

Jill and Sam Clarence → the Clarences

Mr. and Mrs. Jones → the Joneses

the Fernandez family → the Fernandezes

But what about adding an apostrophe s to names ending in s? Like Jones?

Merriam-Webster Online also uses “Jones” as their example:

For names that end in an s or z sound, though, you can either add -‘s or just an apostrophe. Going with -‘s is the more common choice:

The car that belongs to Jones → Jones’s car or Jones’ car.

You can borrow Bob Jones’s lawnmower. Yes, I did add an s after the apostrophe because casual is how I roll. You can borrow Bob Jones’ lawnmower if you wish to be technically correct and formal about it. Whichever you choose, be consistent.

Now, with that out of the way let’s talk about snow and theme.

Where I live, we’re just digging out of three weeks’ worth of a hard winter. We had a huge amount of snow fall in the Pacific Northwest, over 25 inches (we rarely get more than 8). For the space of nearly three weeks, it seemed as if the snowpocalypse had happened. Our back garden was hit quite hard—some of our older more well-established plants may have to be removed.

People were taken by surprise here, and some of their stories made good Facebook posts. The lack of road noise and occasional loss of the internet was quite conducive to my getting some writing done.

During those dark, quiet days, I managed to revamp a story that I had been unable to sell. I submitted it to an anthology, and the editor liked it. In that experience I discovered why I couldn’t find a home for it: there was no underlying theme to unify it.

I loved the characters and the setting, but somehow the original story fell flat. The first rejection had said it was too dark, too sad. So, I tried to brighten it up.

The next rejection said only that it didn’t have enough romance. As it was a story of a man dealing with his ex-wife, I thought they had missed the point.

But actually, they hadn’t—I had. What I didn’t see was there was no particular theme giving the story direction. It was merely a tale of love lost.

When I pulled it out and dusted it off for this attempt, I had to reshape it to fit a themed anthology. That is when I realized there was a glaring opportunity for romance, just not with the two people I thought the story was about.

When I had that epiphany and applied the theme, it became a story of emancipation from the past.

Once I had that awakening, I fell in love with that story all over again. The story that emerged was the one that my subconscious muse must have wanted all along. It just  hadn’t communicated that to me.

My subconscious muse is like that—stubborn, refusing to speak, expecting me to just know what it’s thinking.

Theme is a subtle aspect of any written work. It is rarely stated in a bald fashion, but even if it isn’t obvious, theme is a unifying thread that goes through the story from beginning to end.

We write so many short stories, and some find good homes in anthologies and other publications, and others don’t. When the story is good enough but “lacking something” indefinable, even the members of our writing group may not see why a particular story isn’t working.

I have been sharply reminded to take a good look at how strong the underlying theme is when a story doesn’t work. Theme is the foundation the story rests on.

Credits and Attributions:

Why is it “Socrates’ Deathbed” but “Dickens’s Novels”? A guide to names in their plural and possessive forms by Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary copyright © 2015 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

George Henry Durrie, Hunter in Winter Wood, Public Domain


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Theme and the Short Story #amwriting

Even if you are a confirmed Indie author, as I am, you may feel the desire to write short pieces and submit them to anthologies, magazines, or contests. Writing a short story is an excellent way to explore in detail an idea that is inspired by your longer work, but that you don’t have room to include there.

If you are writing a series of speculative fiction novels set in a world of your creation, writing short stories is a good way to develop that world. You also have the opportunity to develop characters you can use later.

Once you submit your story, it will be up against many entries, so you must make yours as unique as is possible.

Anthologies are usually themed. According to Wikipedia:

A theme is not the same as the subject of a work. For example, the subject of Star Wars is “the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.”

The themes explored in the films might be “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”

If you intend to submit your work to an editor with an open call for themed work, you must demonstrate your understanding of theme as well as your ability to craft brilliant prose.

Analyze the theme and try to think creatively—think a little wide of the obvious tropes. Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme and then go for it. As an author, most of my novels have been epic or medieval fantasy, based around the hero’s journey, detailing how their experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood, and love of family.

These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing.

To support the theme, you must layer

  • character studies,
  • allegory, and
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc.

The theme is introduced, either subtly or overtly, at the first plot point. In a really short story, this must happen on the first page. Many times, we are given a specific word count we cannot exceed, so lengthy lead-ins are not possible.

When writing a short story, it helps to know how it will end. I suggest you put together a broad outline of your intended story arc. Divide your story arc into quarters, so you have the important events in place at the right time. If you try to “pants” it, you might end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story that may not be commercially viable.

When you assemble your outline, ask yourself

  • What will be your inciting incident? How does it relate to the theme?
  • What is the goal/objective? How does it relate to the theme?
  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly does he want it and why?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
  • What happens at the first pinch point?
  • In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
  • Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the turning point to change everything for the worse?
  • At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?
  • How does the underlying theme affect every aspect of the protagonists’ evolution in this story?

In my own writing life, too much background info has been my greatest challenge. Writing short stories has helped me find ways to write more concisely. What is important for the reader to know? What is just info for me? Knowing what is important in my own work is difficult because it all seems so important.

Short stories follow a single thread in a character’s life. Each word must advance that one story thread. Work that wanders all over the place will be summarily rejected, and the editor will most likely not give more than a stock rejection.

Having your work beta read by your critique group will help you identify those places that need to be trimmed down. I have close friends who see my work first and who help me see what the real story is before I bother my editor with it. My beta readers are published authors in my writing group.

Because I am a wordy writer, I always have to keep in mind that info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere have no place in short stories because every word is precious. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the theme of the story and how it drives the plot.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Theme (arts),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theme_(arts)&oldid=848540721(accessed July 29, 2018).




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