Theme Writing

By Kevin McNamee

 Any writer who has ever researched the magazine market has noticed the magazine’s theme requirements.  This is usually included somewhere with the submission guidelines.  I write mainly for the children’s market.  Some of the most popular themes include the seasons and holidays.  These themes are also very popular in the trade book market as well.  Walk into any book store at any time of the year, and you are bound to see a display with holiday or season themed books.  Some of them are treasured classics.  Some of them are brand new to the market.  But all of them represent the continuous demand for these types of books.

Now writing to fit a theme is not easy.  It may be a little easier than writing a story from scratch though.  At least you know the subject matter.  You wouldn’t submit a story about trains when the theme is summer.  But I’m sure that there are editors out there who could tell stories otherwise.

The real challenge of theme writing is trying to come up with a fresh approach to the subject.  What can we do differently to a subject that has been covered thousands of times?  The answer: Plenty and you can have a lot of fun in the process too.

A few years ago around Halloween, my old poetry critique group, The Poet’s Garage, got together and decided to put together a poetry collection based on the theme “spooky”.  Quite a few of us had written Halloween themed poems and were planning to submit them to magazines for the following year.  The idea of putting together a poetry collection intrigued us.  For about six months, we wrote, critiqued and revised “spooky” poems.  The project was spearheaded by fellow Garage members, Laura Wynkoop and Jennifer Judd.  They assembled and submitted the collection to various publishing houses.  The end result was An Eyeball in My Garden: And Other Spine-Tingling Poems.

So what does this have to do with taking a fresh approach to themes, you might ask?  Well, as long as a poem had anything to do with something considered spooky, it was a welcome addition to the collection. As a result, we had a great mix of the humorous, interesting, creepy and downright sinister. 

There are plenty of poems about witches, but have you ever wanted to take a peek at a “Witch’s Shopping List”?   Same goes for werewolves, but have you ever heard the “Love Song of a Werewolf”?   Did you ever really want to find out “Where Nightmares Dwell”?  All of these poems are spooky and all of them are very different.

Having trouble thinking of a new approach for a monster?  No problem, make one up. That’s how the Winking Wot came to be.  We also created an assortment of spell casting gargoyles, ghosts, ghost fish, and goblins on parade.  The possibilities are endless.

Theme writing does present its own set of challenges.  But it also can be very fun and rewarding to leave your own unique stamp on a topic that has been covered numerous times.  Theme writing is a little like coloring in a coloring book.  It’s better when you stay inside the lines.  But choose any colors you want and make it your own.