David M. Fitzpatrick     Email: indy {at} fitz42 {dot} net

Reflecting the Title of a Spectrum Stories Anthology

Many students have some trouble grasping how to write stories that reflect the title of the anthology. They're concerned that they have to use the title of the anthology as the title of their stories, or that the title must appear in their stories, or that each word in the title must be featured in some way in their stories. It can be something literal or something intangible, like an idea, emotion, or metaphor.

A Few Examples
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the anthology is called The Big Green Box. Let's further say that there are eight students who are planning stories for The Big Green Box, and they know their stories must reflect this title. Here are their eight ideas, with notes on why they work or don't work:


Student #1: There's a big green box in the attic at Grandma's house. Little Suzie knows she's never to go in the attic, and especially never to open that box. Through the story, Suzie obsesses over the big green box, and ultimately decides she must know what's in there.   WORKS. The big green box is in the attic, and is the focal point of the story. Without it, we have no story; Suzie's life would go on normally.
Student #2: A quiet little neighborhood is put into turmoil by the arrival of a national big-box store chain. It's a gardening center called Shrubbz, and the residents don't want this ugly green building to open up in their neighborhood. They fight against the retailer opening up on the NIMBY principle, but come to realizations in the end that change their way of thinking.   WORKS. The big green box is the store that is opening. Without it, we have no story; life would go as usual in the neighborhood.
Student #3: The protagonist is John, a big man (the BIG) who is sick of working for his employer, Mr. Green (the GREEN). He receives a box in the mail (BOX) that says he has won a trip to Hawaii, but Mr. Green won't let him go. The story is Big John's battle with Mr. Green about the trip he won from the box.   DOESN'T WORK. He has included someone big, someone green, and a box. But there is no one thing that clearly is the big green box, or that reflects the idea of a big green box.

HOW COULD IT WORK? If John received a big green box in the mail, that could be the thing that drives the story (since the box really does anyway).

Student #4: There's an old man who drives an old, beat-up, delivery truck, one of those straight box trucks. It's faded and rusting out, but it's easy to see it used to be painted green from when he was a younger man. Now it's just him, trying to eke out a living for himself. The protagonist, who as a child teased and tormented the man, grows up a bit as a teenager and wishes to atone for his misdeeds. He organizes other kids who once behaved as he did to clean up the truck, fix the holes, rivet on new sheet metal, and paint it with a new coat of green.   WORKS. The big green box is the old truck. Without it, the teenager doesn't change his thinking and atone for his misdeeds by fixing it up.
Student #5: Jane is a woman who makes flower boxes for her windows. She's very quiet and timid and afraid of everyone, and keeps to herself, always scared of human contact. One day, she completes a really big green box and mounts it under her huge picture window. While she's out planting flowers in it, a burglar arrives with a gun and forces her into the house, where he robs her of everything valuable. Jane is terrified the whole time, but in the end realizes she can't be pushed around like this, and she clubs him with a rolling pin and calls the police.   DOESN'T WORK. Jane may have made a big green box, but it has nothing to do with the events that unfold following it.

HOW COULD IT WORK? If she had never made a flower box before, and she had just made her first one after a long process of being nervous about doing so, and then she clubs the burglar with the box, it could work.

Student #6:  A good wizard, about to be captured by a far more powerful evil wizard, uses every last bit of magic he has to protect himself with a cube-shaped force field, 50 feet on a side, which glows a luminescent green. The evil wizard cannot penetrate it, but knows he must only wait until the spell runs out of power, and he can destroy the good wizard. The good wizard's mind races over all the lessons he learned from his master wizard years ago, with a series of flashbacks, until he comes up with a way to battle the evil wizard. The story culminates in the force field failing and the two engaging in magical combat. The evil wizard will lose even though he is more powerful than the good wizard, because the good wizard learns to use his brain.   WORKS. The big green box is the glowing, cube-shaped field. Without it protecting him and giving him time to think and figure out how to defeat the evil wizard waiting for his spell to fail, he'd likely have died early on.
Student #7: Every day, Bill drives down the same desolate road, and every day, he sees an old green shack out in a field. For years he sees this, and always wonders about it. He decides one day to stop and go into the field and investigate it, where he finds something strange that changes his life.   WORKS. The big green box is the shack. If it weren't there, he never would have investigated and had a life-changing event.
Student #8: An alien crash-lands on Earth in a cube-shaped spaceship and is stranded there. He is nine feet tall and green. The military is after him, but Jeff Bates and his farm family befriend him, helping to keep him away from the military and hide the cube-shaped ship until aliens arrive to rescue him.   DOESN'T WORK. The spaceship is the box, but the alien is big and green.

HOW COULD IT WORK? If the alien were big and green AND named Box, it would work. If the spaceship were shaped like a box AND were big and green, it would work.

A Great Example
Following is an example of an outline a student, Anette Rodrigues, did for the anthology An Odd Red Puzzle. Anette adhered to the requirements of the class in constructing a story with five main elements: protagonist, antagonist, plot, resolution (with the protagonist participating in the resolution), and change (in the protagonist, in some way).

Outline: A modern satirical fairy tale in which a country on an imagined planet is kept in a daze by a power which seems to keep its people in a state of euphoria and immaturity. Only after a mysterious group which calls itself “Odd Red Puzzle” is the prevailing order questioned and in the end changed.

Protagonist: The students in the Odd Red Puzzle group

Antagonist: The political system, the politicians

Plot: Social change through the actions of the Odd Red Puzzle group

Resolution: The students find a way to manipulate those in power to cause change

Change: A better life for everyone in the imagined country of Utopika

Anette has summed this up beautifully, and the group being named "Odd Red Puzzle" is exactly what she needs for the story to work. Of course, we expect that, when she writes the story, Anette will reveal why the group chose the name Odd Red Puzzle, which will presumably have some bearing on the story.