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Revisiting Writing on Topic

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Revisiting Writing on Topic

Postby glorybee » Sat Aug 27, 2016 8:40 am

In an effort to write ‘out of the box’ in the Writing Challenge, some well-intentioned people go a bit too far, and actually write a piece that’s exactly the opposite of the topic. Let me give you a hypothetical example.

Let’s say that the topic for the week was ‘Cold.’ Wanda Writer thinks, Hmmmm, I want to write a unique story that no one else will think of. I know…I’ll write about something HOT. So Wanda writes an amusing story with the following plot points:

• Middle-aged woman
• Having dinner with friends
• Has hot flash
• Suffers through the meal
• Gets home, turns down the thermostat
• Still suffering, hot, hot, hot
• Goes to bed, on top of quilts
• Can’t sleep, still too hot
• Finally goes outside in nightie and makes snow angel
• Whew, cold at last

Wanda Writer probably figures that ending her story with a paragraph in which the poor woman is finally cold will establish that her entry is on topic. To an extent, she’s right—the judges wouldn’t give this piece a ‘0’ for that criterion, but they might very well rate it quite low.

The topic should be integral to the piece. That’s not to say that someone writing to the topic of ‘cold’ should include ‘cold’ (or a synonym) in every sentence—or that they should write about coldness—but the concept of ‘cold’ should be seamlessly interwoven throughout the piece in such a way that the piece couldn’t have existed without it. The concept of ‘cold’ isn’t integral to a piece about the hot flashes of menopause.

So what would some ‘out of the box’ ideas about the topic of ‘Cold’ be? Consider the following (and here I’m only dealing with temperature):

• Stream-of-consciousness of a person coming to awareness (after coma? surgery?) and very cold, wanting a warm blanket from the nurse but unable to ask for it.
• A scientist in a laboratory working with substances in extreme cold. This story could include personal interactions—it wouldn’t have to be about the cold—but perhaps the coldness of the conditions there could also be a metaphor for the scientist’s emotions.
• Dealing with the effects of prolonged, unexpected cold on crops, or a tourist season, or on anything else that depends on warmth. Again, the story would be about the people, not the crops (or the whatever).
• Person running a restaurant that serves only cold food.

With all of these ideas (or with any that you come up with), you’d of course want to focus on the people, not on the cold. The cold is just the catalyst for the story.

I know it’s very tricky to find an interesting idea that’s not too out of the box, but not too conventional. Two questions to ask yourself:

1. Could this story have been written without [concept of the topic]?
2. Have I ever read anything even remotely similar to this before?

If the answer to either of those is yes, see if you can come up with something different.

And just for emphasis, let me return to the original premise of this lesson:

Writing about the opposite of the topic isn’t writing ‘out of the box,’ it’s writing off-topic, even if you throw in a nod to the topic at the very end.

Do you have any questions or comments about writing off-topic? I’ll be happy to respond to them here.
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