Writing for Submissions: How to Interpret Themes
by Samuel Osho
To achieve homogeneity of creative voices, a theme is selected to drive the focus of an issue. It’s like a furnace of artistic embers cooking a meal spiced with all sorts of literary condiments. The overarching idea of a literary work is simply its theme. It is the author’s perspective on a subject and intentionally foisted on readers via the evolution of characters, the twisting of plots, realistic dialogue, and neatly woven literary devices.
Interestingly, readers are the judges. Readers are responsible for interpreting the theme of a literary work. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, a literary work’s theme is deciphered through objective lenses, an interpretation that is void of judgments, discrimination, and prejudice.
If you are submitting an entry for an issue, how do you align your content with the theme? And what are the editors looking for?
Common Themes and Examples in Literature
- War: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Arms and the Man by Bernard Shaw, Iliad and Odyssey by Homer.
- Crime and Mystery: Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe.
- Love and Friendship: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
- Revenge: A Time to Kill by John Grisham, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.
How to Align Content with Theme
Compelling stories all share the same traits – they spark curiosity and evoke emotions in the readers. A writer that knows how to move his readers will never be out of business. Words void of emotions will never touch the hearts of readers. But more than harnessing the power of emotions, a writer must find a way to reveal the theme of his work through the feelings of the main character about the main subject. In other words, the writer’s opinion is unravelled subtly through the rumble of feelings and emotional drama of the story’s main character. That’s a way of unpacking and thrusting a theme on an audience.
Furthermore, readers who share similar views with the writer can relate to the emotional struggles or victories of the main character. It’s like inserting a key in the keyhole of a giant door, there is a connection and then an opening for further exploration. Another advantage of emotion is the broad spectrum of its capabilities – comedy to tragedy, rejection to approval, condemnation to praise, guilt to innocence. This shows that writers don’t always have to be the devil’s advocate but have the freedom to see the bright side of things. The way you do this is being deliberate about the evolution of your character’s emotion.
For poets, you tinker with emotions by choosing the appropriate literary devices to convey your opinion.
Dialogue is an exciting tool in the hands of a writer to repeatedly solidify an idea or communicate a stance that eventually morphs into the theme. Through realistic conversations, you can unravel riveting discussions about polarizing issues. It can be used to convey the opinion of the writer vividly.
Based on best practices, a theme should be in the driving seat and dictate the form and content of dialogue that ensues between characters. Conversation unveils the thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies of characters in a story. As the story evolves, the theme takes shape and becomes the significant fibre that binds everything together. The characters are free to pitch a tent anywhere – conservativism, liberalism, and centrist. But of course, the writer has the final say – they are the metaphorical potter with the freedom to mould clay into any shape or form. Check out Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (A Book on Writing) to improve your storytelling skills and most importantly learning how to construct engaging dialogues.
What are Editors Looking for?
Clichés deserve the attention of no one. When creating content for submissions, pitch your tent far away from hackneyed phrases. You lose readers when you dwell on what they already know; the same is true for editors. Often, inspiring pieces are void of banality but are doorways into new ravines of insights. Can you offer a unique perspective on an age-long subject?
Creative writers know the aesthetic value of injecting novelty in their works and are aware of the mind-numbing vulnerability that comes with it. It takes courage to present literary pieces in an unusual form, but that might be all you need to get the attention of the editor. A creative writer is never afraid to swim in uncharted waters or seek refuge in controversial climes. The works of daring writers jump from pages of text into the editor’s mind, sit in their subconscious and never leave.
Offering Value to the Readers
Literary organizations are in the business of content creation and distribution; they have customers craving for value-adding products and services. What’s the value proposition of your piece? What value does this piece add to a reader that is interested in the theme of the issue? What will readers curious about this theme want at a time like this?
The editor’s lens probes an entry and painstakingly establishes the quality of value it will add to the issue. This value can come in various forms: inspirational, educational, entertaining, and provocative. Several factors come into play here – from the editor’s bias to the type of readership that the magazine caters to.
Before You Submit
- Check previously published entries in the literary magazine: This will give you valuable insights into the type of content that the editorial board applauds.
- Study Literary Styles: Most literary organizations have their published grammatical style guide. Reviewing the guide before writing can steady your ideas along the right path. Check out the submission guidelines, too.
- Self-Editing: Use this for the first three levels of polishing the first draft until it shines.
- Request for Critiques: Allow trusted writing mentors or colleagues to offer you constructive criticisms about your work. This can be a way to embrace new perspectives that will further enhance the quality of your entry. Mastery of any skill is impossible without feedback.
- Early Submissions: Submit on time and follow all the submission guidelines.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samuel Osho is an award-winning writer, a public speaker, and a professional mechanical engineer. You can find some of his works on TheCable, Sahara Reporters, YNaija, ScoopNG, The Manitoban, WRRNG amongst many others. Asides writing, his creative side expresses itself via photography and website designs.
Osho has a personal blog where he frequently shares his thoughts on writing, life, creative work, and personal development. Find him on social media via @iamsamosho.