Category Archives: Setting and Milieu

The Series Trap

So you want to write an epic sci-fi or fantasy series…

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Been there, done that.

I know authors who have written double-digit books in their series. I suppose that’s a great thing if it’s making money. But to me there’s a sort of hidden trap in creating a series that becomes self-perpetuating and endless. Part of that may just be my own proclivities as a reader. In general I find three or four books to be about as long as even the best writers can keep my interest in one story, one protagonist, and/or one set of supporting characters.

I just have too much interest in other stories to keep going back to that same water hole.

So when I started my War Chronicles epic fantasy series, I very deliberately set a story line that would be finished after three, maybe four books. I had no intention or desire to be writing War Chronicles books for years. I wanted to write other stories.

Now, had that series taken off like Harry Potter, and publishers were flying to my home to shove money in my mailbox, maybe I’d have a different perspective. But that didn’t happen, so I’m happy with what I did earn on my first series, and am glad that I have since written a sci-fi novel, and am now working on a contemporary murder mystery novel. From the first time I decided to pursue writing as a hobby and (hopefully) a career, I wanted to keep my options open and write widely in different genres.

I think that will make me a better writer in all genres.

Now, from a career perspective, maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe sticking with one sub-genre for my entire career might be a better way to establish a loyal fan base and churn out stories that are eagerly anticipated by those fans.

But even if it is, I’m enjoying my foray into contemporary murder mystery. Who knows, my next book might be a romance novel.

Found Story

If you’ve played video games at all since 2007, you’ve likely encountered a storytelling innovation introduced by the original Bioshock (note: I don’t know for certain that they are the ones that introduced this technique, but it was the first time I encountered it and the first time I saw it widely discussed).

Bioshock is set in the ruined underwater city of Rapture, once a paradise of pure, unregulated innovation. While it appears abandoned as your character approaches in his submersible, it is anything but. The inhabitants have all gone violently insane, the end result of too much tampering with their own genomes. Your character has been summoned by a mysterious note, and you arrive knowing nothing about the city or its history. But explore around a little, and you’ll find something that binds all the residents of Rapture together beyond their damaged minds. They all just loved recording audio diaries and leaving them lying around where anyone (read: you) can find and listen.

This is cleverly done for a few reasons. First is that Rapture has quite a fascinating and convoluted history from its idealistic founding to its inevitable decline. But there’s *almost* no one left who can tell you straight up what happened, and you might not trust them if they did. By scattering critical bits of information in areas where the player must pass to progress, the player is gradually filled in on the backstory in a drip-feed of exposition and character revelation. Plus, for those who absolutely must find all of Rapture’s dark little secrets, there are plenty of nonessential audio diaries to find if you poke into every nook and cranny the city has to offer.

To say this storytelling innovation was popular among game developers would be a massive understatement. Scarcely any game with meaningful effort put into story doesn’t have them these days. But while playing the recent downloadable content expansion for Horizon: Zero Dawn, navigating the ruins of past human civilization (the game is set in a post-apocalyptic far future), I encountered a little short story in audio log form. Over the course of several logs you discover while exploring the derelict dam, this story concerned two coworkers who became friends in the face of the layoff of all their peers and their replacement by robots (the rise of automation and robotics in humanity’s distant past is a major theme of the game, but seldom is it expressed so succinctly and so effectively as in this sequence of short audio logs). As the logs progress, the two friends are forced to train the robots that will eventually replace them. They form a (terrible) two-woman band, recording songs while pranking their robotic coworkers, all the while knowing they are working on borrowed time. With impressive poignancy, their last days on the job wind down, and after one last night on the town, they both go their separate ways into an uncertain (only the player knows how uncertain) future.

There are several lessons for the writer wrapped up in this. What can I say? I apparently love lists.

  1. Stripped-down, short side stories nested within larger stories can be effective ways at distilling the theme you are trying to convey.
  2. Sweat the details. The details matter. Look how much effort the writers put into this game. All this takes place in a downloadable expansion (read: optional) side-quest (also optional) in which the player can (optionally) hunt down and listen to these audio logs. And guess what? Horizon: Zero Dawn is a phenomenal game top to bottom. As my favorite football coach likes to say: “Take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves.”
  3. And, in keeping with the month’s theme, think outside the box when crafting your stories.

 

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Role Playing as Story telling

Welcome to Agnara

Welcome to a story that has been growing, evolving and branching into new lands, new realms and new worlds for going on forty years now. Pretty much every part of this continent has been part of the story, as well as other continents and islands not shown here. But it’s all one story.

Yes, it’s a Role Playing Gaming campaign. But “campaign” is too small a word for it. It probably left “epic” behind a dozen years ago. Hundreds of characters have been created, lived, died and a few have become demigods in their own right.

It all started here:

If you look close, you can see a small black star that marks the location of both the first D&D session I ever ran, and the first story told in this world.

The thing is, that this story is not my story. It’s a story with dozens of writers, all working together to create a sweeping tale of triumph, tragedy and humor. But all of that follows a thread, and occurs on a stage that I did create, and continue to create to this day.

It’s a world with dark secrets, powerful and evil villains, and great heroes. The first campaign followed the near extinction of the entire race of dwarves, and the heroism of a now-legendary party who fought to the very gates of hell to restore dwarvenkind to the world.

But that was merely the start. From there the story spread across seas, and even across worlds. The great heroes are immortalized in legend, song, monuments, even the names of cities. Ceorl the half-elf wizard, Drax the Defender, Dane the Deadly, and finally Forkovr the dwarf, whose exploits were so astonishing that he rose into the ranks of the divine, and whose followers now rival the size of other sects.

While heroes tend to come and go, the great villains are somehow never fully defeated, rising from the ashes again and again to threaten new generations of Agnarans.

I started this world around 1980, and it has hosted campaigns using several RPG rules systems. But the story goes on.

This isn’t all fun and games. Although it mostly is. I learned a great deal about story telling, about conflict, about character development and plot. Most of that works as well in novels as it does at the game table. I also learned how to create highly detailed, imaginative worlds filled with a diverse collection of races, political intrigue, economic systems and entire mythologies. My novels and short stories are much richer for the experience.

I like to tell people that running D&D campaigns was the best training I ever had to be a project manager. It was also great training to be a writer.

The story isn’t over. I’ll be starting a new chapter soon. Who knows where that will take the story? I don’t. That depends as much on my players as it does on me. But wherever it goes, it will become more history for some future campaign.

Sound like fun? Then let’s roll some dice!

Welcome to December – 2017 Year In Review

This month, the Fictorians and a few guest bloggers will share their successes, lessons learned, and their challenges as we collectively pursue our writing careers. I hope that some of their stories and posts resonate with you. We’re all at different places in our journey, but the idea that we’re all stepping forward is critical to remember.

Every year, I set Writing Goals. Those goals have become more ambitious over the last few years and I’ve been challenged to get my butt in the writing chair to achieve the things I wanted to at the beginning of the year. I opened up my schedule to attend more conventions and events, I ambitiously took on a new project that was not on my writing goals at all, and I managed to get two books published in the last half of the year. I’ll share more about those projects later this month, but there were two things that happened this year that harken back to something that Kevin J. Anderson talks about: “Popcorn Theory.” The idea is that as writers, we can’t treat our stories like a single kernel of popcorn. If we were hungry, we’d starve cooking one kernel at a time. Having more projects going breeds creativity and creates unique opportunities. This year, I’d decided to take a break from writing all short fiction to focus on writing/editing two novels. Yet, opportunities knocked and I listened.

The first was an opportunity I’ll discuss more in a couple of weeks, but I received an invitation to submit a story for an anthology in the bestselling military science fiction series of the Four Horsemen Universe. I had a blink in my schedule, so I wrote the story, turned it in, and saw my whole calendar for the year derailed when not only did editors Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey love my short story but they asked me to write a novel with my character Peacemaker Jessica Francis. But, more on that later.

Very soon, AVATAR Dreams – An Anthology Inspired by the ANA X-Prize, will be published that features some of the biggest names in science fiction. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Mike Resnick, this collection features stories from Jody Lynn Nye, Todd McCaffrey, Martin L. Shoemaker, Tina Gower, Marina J. Lostetter, Brad R. Torgersen, Josh Vogt, Dr. Harry Kloor, Andrea Stewart, Ron Calling, Kay Kenyon, and Kevin Ikenberry. That’s right – me. Opportunity knocked and I was in the right place.

Kevin J. Anderson looked across the table at me and said, “I need another story for the AVATAR Dreams Anthology. Can you get me something in two weeks?”

Yes, I could.

From story idea to turn-in was seven days. It was a crazy, hectic time but I had a story crystallize in my head that combined the movie “The Fast and the Furious” with Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage. With the help of my friend Lou J. Berger, some bacteriology tutoring from my father (putting that PhD to use), and a couple of late nights, I turned in a story faster than expected. Hearing that it was a great fit for the anthology was icing on the proverbial cake. But, my take away from the experience was that I could take a short-notice opportunity and do something good. It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a short story and I’m pretty proud of “That Others May Live.”

So, as we go through the month of December and hear different stories, there’s a chance you’ll hear opportunity knocking. Don’t be afraid to answer the door. Everybody on the blog this month has been listening, I’m sure.