Using Common Threads to Spur Creativity
Writers, when in doubt, use a thread.
That’s what I started out doing a year or so ago, as I often do. I wanted to increase my short story production, and I decided I’d pick a loose thread or theme common to the next few stories I’d write. Three or four ideas for stories sprang from that decision almost right away. As the weeks and months wore on and I feared I was running dry on ideas, I went back to that main theme. I played with tense, tone, point of view and everything else, but kept that common theme alive for those stories.I ran toward it over and over. Like a tall landmark in a strange city to which I could always orient myself while traveling.
And you know what? It worked. Worked so well in fact, that the theme I started with, theater antics, became even tighter, as I set all of the stories in one place. Once I did that, other more nuanced themes occurred almost in their own right. When I put them together, I had a collection of which I am quite proud.
Yes, my friends, Thank You For Ten: Short Fiction About a Little Theater (Published a month ago today!) started off as a decision to use a common thread or vantage point for the next several stories I was writing. The idea of a collection came later; it didn’t just descend from the heavens, believe it or not. At first I just wanted some focus for my fiction writing for a while. Out of that came my first ever self-published book.
Writers have done this probably as long as their have been writers, but that’s because it works so well. Collections of stories about cats, a hometown, a single family. Choosing such themes can initiate great creativity. Many minds are wired to be more productive when they can focus on a single item or two, and launch from there. That’s why themes work so well, for readers and writers.
Yet what if you don’t want to produce a collection like mine? Can you still make use of themes and threads? Without a doubt. I’ve been doing it for years before Thank You for Ten came along.
Many times I’ve established themes and commonalities as a beacon to myself, and then written a few stories to fit them; these are not collections, but merely stand alone stories that posses a similar common component. It’s not always as obvious as Thank You for Ten, and in fact often it isn’t. Many times the theme I’ve used is known only to myself. You can use the same tactic for your stand alone stories.
For example,you could decide that in August, all of your short fiction will will demonstrate doubt. You ask, “Whose doubt? Doubt of what?” Exactly! It’s wide open. An astute reader may catch the theme, if they happen to read all of the stories in one sitting. But if you are just using “doubt” as a catalyst to write several stand alone stories, nobody has to know you used a theme unless you want them too.
Then again, themes can also be specific. You might tell yourself that in the next five stories you write, the character will get lost while driving somewhere. More concrete, but certainly not confined to only a single narrative.
Then of course you can tell the same exact story from a different point of view each time.
The best part about using a thread outside of a planned collection, is that in pursuing it you often get ideas for stories that don’t connect at all to said theme. And behold, you’ve got more writing to do.
Threads then, are a bit like writing prompts, but broader. Less specific. Yet they achieve the same purpose; inspiring possibilities within your fiction, and motivating you to write even more often. And writing more often is a thread all writers would love to run through their day, I would think.