I have four anthology calls coming up. Every time I write for one, I have to think about how to approach the theme. It’s not always easy. Sometimes the theme is abstract.
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The first step is to reread the guidelines to make sure you understand what the theme is, as well as the more obvious requirements of genre and word count. On one of the calls, I was glad I re-read it. I remembered the theme wrong! I would have written a story that didn’t fit if I hadn’t done that.
Identify the Low Hanging Fruit
Ask yourself what is everyone else going to do. If it’s a call about a murder in a restaurant, the anthology will get a lot of submissions about a restaurant critic being murdered.
This low hanging fruit might even be the genre. If the theme is for science fiction and fantasy and lends itself more to fantasy, the editor might not get a lot of science fiction. Opportunity time!
Start looking for unusual directions that only you can do. When I came up with the idea for Magic Tidying in X Marks the Spot, I paired the theme of pirates with ghosts, magic, and tidying (Marie Kondo had just come out with her Netflix videos).
Hang a Lantern on the Anthology’s Theme
It should be upfront in the story and pretty obvious. It shouldn’t only appear at the end or feel like you sprinkled it in because you didn’t know what else to do with it. You should not be able to remove those elements without destroying the story.
What’s the most challenging anthology theme you’ve run into?
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Time Markers in Fiction: These are easy to leave out of the story. Stand out for your anthology theme submission by including time.
I love a good theme anthology and have some in my library: Space Inc., Catfantastic, Don’t Forget Your Spacesuit, Dear (mother themed), and Man Kzin Wars. War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches is also a good one.
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