I’m working on a short story by doing anything but right now. I have the tone, the setting, the characters, and the problem. Five years ago, I would have thought i had all the pieces necessary to start writing the story.
But I’m still missing the story’s heartbeat. I don’t do outlines in my process. I’d rather be able to switch the entire second act because while I was brushing my teeth, two random pieces of existing prose fit together in a completely new and exciting way. I have no loyalty to what will happen or what has happened. Both are completely flexible to fit a more engaging story.
I haven’t found the thematic question yet. The plot is: character in terrible situation gets out of terrible situation through their own courage and their new associate. Those bones are as familiar as dirt. But the character starts willing to accept the terrible situation because no option that is better has appeared yet in their life.
The story will give them that better option. But what they have to change in their way of thinking to take it is still a vague notion. I need to stare at more walls and talk about writing stuff until it clicks. The one thing going for this story is the particular setting I’ve chosen and the non-human protagonist/world that exists in it. I could write it on the power of the unique voice and world alone.
But this market is a themed anthology. It means even the specific bones of my story might exist in another piece. Themed anthologies are a gamble any writer takes — a great story that didn’t gel with the table of contents might find another home but all the other stories rejected from the same theme are flooding the market, too.
It can be frustrating waiting for the final piece of what the story can say about being human even if the protagonist is not. I wouldn’t submit to a themed anthology unless I had that aspect nailed down in the story. Themed anthologies get more than enough very good stories that explore the theme of the call extremely well.
But the number of stories that can do that and still say something important are a very small minority in any slushpile. Of course, even if the work does that beautifully, there’s still a chance that it still won’t gel with the rest of the stories selected.
Themed anthologies are great practice for writing with one particular purpose. I think it’s one of the best examples of the immortal line from Masked Wolf’s Astronaut in Space: “Even if I don’t get paid for progression, I’ma get it.”
Even if the story doesn’t get accepted, the practice of writing to a theme is practicing meaningful storytelling at its finest.