Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Title page from Pride and Prejudice taken from Chandler’s Ford Today archives.
So what do I mean exactly by a “good” writing topic? Surely whether it is good or not depends on the nuances, personal bias etc of the writer in question (and whether you agree with them or not!), and whether they “deliver” on the theme in an entertaining and/or interesting way?
For me, a good writing topic is one I can take in more than one direction. It has to be “open”. You’re more likely to find plenty to write about to an open theme. You are also trying to avoid a classic writing problem of boxing yourself in.
The irony is I work with restrictions all the time for my flash stories and that’s fine. I’ve found having limits encourages creativity and lateral thinking. But for non-fiction, and especially when choosing a theme to write to, I want it as open as possible.
This topic is, aptly, a good example as I can use it to give useful hints on picking good topics and working out whether a topic suits your style or not (I couldn’t write about fashion for example which is a wide open theme with plenty of angles to it but that’s because I’m not in the least bit interested in fashion. I think that total lack of interest would show up!).
Picking Good Topics
There are several ways to do this.
One is to go back to the book of proverbs/sayings I referred to in a recent post and use those proverbs and sayings as themes to write to. There will always be something you can do with “a stitch in time saves nine” for example (and it lends itself to fiction too).
Another way is to use a random question generator. Yes, there is such thing. I find the questions raised make for good themes rather than titles but that’s a great place to start. I’ve used these for fiction but most of the time the random questions lend themselves well to non-fiction articles. Having a quick scan on such a generator as I drafted this piece, the generator produced “What’s the last goal you set for yourself that you accomplished?”.
Now I can use that for fiction. I can have a story with a character setting themselves that goal, accomplishing it, and overcoming all manner of obstacles getting in their way to reach that point. That’s fine.
I also also use this one for non-fiction. I could write a general post about goals I’ve accomplished and which ones I would still like to do. I could also write a separate post about the value of goals.
Yet another way is to look out for the theme from your favourite stories. There will be at least one. For example, I love Pride and Prejudice. The theme there (or at least as I take it) is love not allowing social status to get in the way.
Better still, and using Elizabeth Bennet as the viewpoint character here, the theme could be never settle for second best. She could’ve married the odious Mr Collins. Her family expected her to do so. She refused, wanting much more from life than that. She also turned down Mr Darcy’s original (and insulting) proposal. Elizabeth would’ve been under more pressure to accept that had the family known about it.
So I could write non-fiction posts about striving for the best in creative writing and not settling for second best there. There could be another post about fictional heroines defying convention. There could be fictional pieces about my own characters not allowing social status to get in the way of them finding true love. This is also a classic underlying theme for fairytales. How often does the character from the poor background end up being the hero/heroine who gets the Prince/Princess?
Another option is to think about your own interests and why you like them. Others are likely to like them too or be interested in your interest in them. We are talking human interest stories here for non-fiction. For fiction, you could have a character with the same interest and where it takes them. Or have a character expected to have this interest (think family tradition) and rebels against it.
Another good method is to think about what could engage a reader. Think about what would engage you. Again that should throw up topic ideas.
For example, it’s no surprise I love creative writing. I’ve had a roundabout journey to get to where I am now as a writer. I’ve been talking on that topic for a couple of groups on Zoom this year and people are interested in what makes someone do something, how they overcome difficulties, what they’ve learned along the way etc. What have you learned along the way? Are there tips/useful advice you can share with others? So that easily covers non-fiction.
For fiction, you would have your characters engaged by what you think would engage a reader (and this is where classic themes such as justice will out can come in. There are few of us who would not be interested in reading a story based on that theme so instant engagement there).
Read widely for this. And bear in mind your own love of fiction and non-fiction books can inspire what you write. I love history so it’s no surprise I’ve written some historical flash fiction pieces. Likewise crime and fairytales.
For non-fiction, it is vital you check out facts you’re planning to use across a variety of sources (and list those sources too. If you’re planning a non-fiction book, publishers you approach will want to know what these are. The best tip here is to make a list of those sources as you go). See Wikipedia as a useful starting point only (some articles are excellent, others make it clear there are gaps but it is good practice to read across several sources anyway).
I sometimes use spider diagrams to work out different possibilities for my flash fiction tales. Why not try that with the topics that interest you and see what sub-topics come out from that? I’ve found writing things down encourages the creative process.
Also list a few ideas, not just one or two. It will be the ones further down your list that will have the most promise. Why? Because they will be the less obvious thoughts and you’re more likely to get a unique and different story or article out of that.
Coming up with a unique angle on a topic is more likely to make your story grab the attention of a competition judge. For non-fiction, that unique angle gives you your pitch for submitting to an editor.
And good luck!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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