As regular readers of this site know, I’m going through a bit of a Clive Cussler phase at the moment. If you’ve never heard of him before, he writes thriller novels that almost always seem to revolve around the sea, sailing and/or diving in some way or another. Or, to put it another way, the Clive Cussler novel I’m reading at the time of writing is literally called “Sahara” – and it still includes lots of nautical stuff. In a story about a desert!
So, this made me think about writing stories based around a theme. Although I don’t have nearly as much experience with themed storytelling as Cussler does, I’ve had some experience. For example, the short story collections I’ve written for this blog will have a theme – like last year’s “Retro Sci-Fi” Halloween stories – and I also somehow manage to make most of these blog articles about the subject of creating things, even when talking about seemingly unrelated subjects.
So, how can you come up with lots of different stories that still involve a single theme?
1) Know your theme: Simply put, you need to have a fairly good knowledge of the theme in question before using it in multiple stories. In other words, you need both research and (if possible) experience. So, choose a theme that you know a lot about. And, more importantly, one that interests you in some way or another.
And, this isn’t as difficult as you might think. After all, you almost certainly have interests and/or experiences you can draw upon. Even if your life has been fairly “ordinary”, there’s probably something interesting in there if you look hard enough. Whether it’s your encyclopedic knowledge of a particular type of music, or a hobby that you have, or some life experience that is “ordinary” to you but would be interesting to someone else etc…
And this doesn’t even have to be something ultra-dramatic in order to be interesting. If the author is really interested in the theme and can communicate that interest to the reader, then you can write interesting stories about any theme.
For example, when I was a teenager, I read about half of Jeffrey Archer’s “Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less” – which is a novel about the stock market. The stock market. And it was somehow still interesting enough to make my teenage self read half of it (and interesting enough that, for a very short while, I actually thought that stockbrokers were “cool”).
So, yes, knowing your theme really well and being genuinely interested in it is pretty much a requirement.
2) Challenge and compatibility: If you’re writing lots of stories about a single theme, then you need to keep it interesting. And you can do this by trying to make your “compatible” with seemingly unrelated things. Not only does this intrigue the reader, but it also provides an interesting “can I do this?” challenge to you too.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned Clive Cussler’s “Sahara” – which I’m reading at the time of writing. This is a nautical thriller novel that revolves around the Sahara Desert. But, how does Clive Cussler do this seemingly “impossible” thing?
Well, part of the story is set on a large river that leads to the Sahara. Likewise, the main premise of the story revolves around stopping a dangerous source of water-borne contamination that has the potential to spread to the sea. Likewise, scenes where characters are stranded in the desert read a bit like descriptions of people adrift at sea etc…
So, yes, it’s possible to write a nautical novel about a desert. And I’d bet that Clive Cussler had a lot of fun when working out how to tell this seemingly “impossible” type of story.
So, trying to make your theme compatible with seemingly unrelated things can be both an interesting creative challenge and a way to make your story more interesting to your readers. At the very least, even if you mess it up, your story will still be a brilliant source of unintentional comedy.
3) The characters: Simply put, if your characters are interested in and/or experts about a particular subject, then you can include a theme in your stories reasonably easily – even in stories that seem to be totally unrelated to that theme.
The detective genre is the perfect example of this. If a character is a detective, then pretty much any story that they appear in will usually be a detective story of some kind of another. After all, they see the world from the perspective of a detective, so they’ll still be interested in solving mysteries or working out why things have happened – even if the story doesn’t involve them solving any crimes.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂