The Woes of Re-theming

I wish I could say there was nothing better to do with my Saturday other than re-theming my WordPress site, but that would be a total lie. The truth is I had the Mistylook theme for a while, and although it suited my needs at the time, this site has grown much larger since I first started this blog up, oh five years ago. The theme was an older one and didn’t support all the cool features that are available in the current themes like Featured Images or gracefully handling sticky posts. Also my menu was too large to fit without causing some nasty design issues.

It was surprisingly difficult to find a decent theme that I liked. One that would be more text-focused (because let’s be honest, my photography isn’t exactly top notch), but would also fit my simple needs. I was looking for:

  • Quirky design features. Like social media links built-in and eye-catching designs bits.
  • Two-column support. I don’t like to overwhelm visitors with ten different columns. They might confuse my site with a browser plug-in.
  • Menu support for 6-7 items. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?
  • Headers would be nice, but not required.

My first attempt, I was going to go with the Quentin theme. It looks sophisticated but simple enough that I didn’t think it would be too difficult to get used to. Plus I liked the rustic quality that came with it. Of course when I activated it, my side-bar disappeared and I scrambled to recreate all the items I had on it. Luckily I screencapped them so I could create them again *just in case* everything broke on me. I was halfway through when I found a deal-breaker.

Quentin doesn’t support menus, of any kind.

That threw me for a loop. I guess I’ve just gotten used to themes automatically including them that I didn’t think to double-check before activating it. So I was scrambling again.

Here are a few themes that I almost went with:

  • Sketch – A little too image-focused for my needs, though I loved the minimalistic design.
  • Fictive – The stylistic choices were great here: the social media icons beneath the author info and the individualized post designs really stuck with me. However your menu that you include is expanded by default, and I wasn’t too keen on simplifying my menu structure down to three or four items.
  • Flounder – This one was also so tempting, but the expanded menu on the side was a big let-down. And you had limited color options which was a real bummer for me. That color scheme just didn’t allow me the flexibility to show horror & fantasy in the same arena unfortunately.
  • Writr – Another tempting one, but the blank area to the side leaves a lot of empty space on larger monitors.
  • Adelle – The structure/design was great, but the lack of customization for the pink details at the top really took away from its flexibility. Again I have to take my writing genres into account.
  • Balloons – I *love* the dynamic balloons on this page, but with very limited color options and the fact that the balloons occasionally obscure the text, it didn’t seem a right pick for me. (I think the Something Fishy theme handles this much better since the movement happens in the background. So cute!)

So I ultimately went with Reddle, which didn’t have all the features that I was looking for, but it has enough. Surely I’m not the only one who has gone through re-theming woes, either on a WordPress.com site or on a custom-built site. I can’t offer any wine to soothe the pain of redesigning, but I can offer my sympathy!

Brushing up on writing short stories

It’s been said that writing short stories is one of the most difficult forms of writing. You have to pack quite a bit of information into a very small amount of space, and this doesn’t just include story and characters. Some of the best short stories also have underlying themes that readers can connect with. Those are the kind of stories that leave an impression on you long after you’ve finished reading it, the kind that makes you think about abstract ideas or feel emotions that might otherwise be unreachable.

I realize this is kind of Storytelling 101, but it’s important to remember especially when you’re writing short stories. Sometimes it’s easy to let the plot get away from you, and the characters to move on ahead, and suddenly you’re left grasping for that underlying theme that really should mesh your world together. It’s the resonant theme that leaves you’re audience with an addictive, breathless feeling that they’ll want to see again.

As a writer, I’ve felt that pinpointing the theme in my own stories is difficult, and although I like writing what I would call ‘entertaining’ stories, I feel like I’m at a good point to try my hand at some deeper work. Kind of how an actor who has played in several action bits is now ready to tackle their first drama. So I’ve started sprucing up my storytelling abilities by listening to some experts at work. Recently I started subscribing to Clarkesworld Magazine and PodCastle on my iPod to help give me some inspiration and to see how the experts do it. One of the stories that really left an impression on me was “All the Painted Stars” by Gwendolyn Clare (audio). This story really captures the kind of mind-altering science fiction that sucks you in and grasps your view of the world so tight that your mind keeps returning to it again and again. Really wonderful stuff, and learning to mingle that kind of magic into my own work is really my ultimate goal, and probably any writer’s goal.

Over the last few days I’ve frequently been left with that breathless feeling, and through the process, I think I’m gaining a better grasp of this elusive overarching theme. When writing novels, it seems a bit easier to take hold of your themes and highlight them, but like I said, in short stories you have to do all that work in a far shorter span of time. It’s definitely a challenge, but perfecting short story writing ought to lend support to novel writing as well, right? I guess I’ll be answering that on down the road.

On a side note, my entertaining horror/western Night Feeders has gotten some excellent reviews over at Goodreads and Amazon. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend picking up a sample. Thanks to Jennifer Moody for giving it a shot despite being uncertain of the genre, and writing such an honest review!

What do you do to improve your writing abilities in your chosen medium? Who do you consider to be experts in your area?