Anthology Week: Pairing Ideas to Theme, One way or Another

It’s post two of Anthology Week – so named because I have a story coming out in The Officer, a military sci-fi anthology coming out this week.

The last post talked about finding your way into one of these anthologies, which are grand ways of getting your work in front of readers who might otherwise never know you exist (there’s a lot of books out there, after all). Only, once you’ve found an anthology that you’d like to enter, you run into the hard part:

Writing the darn story

Now, most anthologies run around a given theme. Maybe it’s alien invasions. Maybe it’s something involving military. Maybe it’s a twenty-story collection on how eating cereal changes the world. Point being, you now have to come up with something that fits what the anthology is going for. Doing this more or less involves picking one of two options:

  1. Tweaking an existing idea to fit the anthology’s theme

    Say you’ve got this brilliant plan for a short story, but you’ve been waiting for an excuse to write it. Now here’s the opportunity, but your masterpiece about a boy who discovers he’s really loved the girl next door this whole time might not fit in, say, an anthology about slime monsters destroying metropolises.

    And thus the arduous task of writing becomes tweaking your idea: taking it out of, perhaps, the literary fiction domain in which it lives and throwing it into b-movie sci fi goodness. Rather than stumbling into each other as they get off the school bus, maybe the boy runs into the girl as they flee the great green goop monster devouring their homes. Instead of a star-crossed night in a park where, with tentatively held hands, boy and girl find their first tender moments of love, it’s instead a rush of adrenaline that leads to a first kiss as the girl administers frantic CPR after the blob creature explodes downtown. Same sentiment, different setting.

    Making this shift involves stripping away the extra parts of your story so that only the emotional core remains. The elevator pitch on the characters. That single line, stripped of all extraneous detail. Boy meets girl. The hero’s journey. Man vs. Monster. A radical discovery changes life in a small town.

    You get the idea – stripped of setting, reduced to the center meaning of your story, you can look at taking your idea and putting it into the theme demanded by the anthology.

  2. Coming up with an idea to fit the theme

    The aforementioned point aside, you may not want to fit an idea of yours to an anthology’s theme. Perhaps your boy-meets-girl story would be better off in the quaint town rather than the Quasar Galaxy. Perhaps your slice-of-life tale is better told in a fantasy kingdom instead of in an anthology of spy thriller shorts. In those cases, actually looking at the anthology and coming up with something suitable makes for a better choice.

    Depending on how fast you come up with ideas, this might be easy (again, espresso can be a crucial ally in the battle against a tired mind). However, if you’re at a loss for where to start, I’d go through and list things that have been done before in the anthology’s setting. For example, in our above slime monster anthology example, you could list some movie concepts like The BlobMonsters vs. Aliens, or other alien invasion-style books like The Tommyknockers or Animorphs (yep, I just went there). Point being, looking at how the subject has been tackled before can give you some ground to build from.

    To carry the example further – you could find a unique twist on The Blob by writing the story from the perspective of someone who profits from The Blob‘s destruction. Maybe they feel guilty about how the disaster improved their business, or maybe it focuses on how a politician manipulates the problem and finds themselves at a loss when it’s solved. Or perhaps you go back to the boy-meets-girl well and explore how a couple, years or even months later, deals with the fact that frenzied flight from a monster isn’t the firmest of grounds for a long-term relationship (or maybe it is?)

Regardless of how you come up with your idea, remember that an anthology is an opportunity to experiment. You’re often not writing a novel-length work, so you don’t need to be afraid of committing months of effort to something that might not work out that well. Or a story that doesn’t have the weight to support 300 pages of melodrama. Take a flyer on something crazy and see where it leads.

If you’re curious, The Officer is available this week on Amazon in ebook and paperback. You can check it out here.