Tag Archives: Gregory D Little

An Infinity of Choices

Let’s engage in a little mental exercise, shall we? At its heart, a story is nothing more than a series of choices made by the author. The author begins a story with a blank page, which is to say, an infinite number of possible choices. They can choose to write about literally anything. Nothing constrains them but the limits of imagination.

Then they make a choice. They decide to tell a mystery story, or a fantasy story, or some combination of two of those. Or maybe they don’t make this choice. Maybe their first choice is about their main characters: a shepherd who has been selected to save the world, a rag-tag band of space mercenaries who can’t help but find themselves smack dab in the center of pivotal events in the solar system, the teenage daughter of a terrorist and a business magnate and who is in training to be a jailer of the gods, or the son of an alcoholic caretaker of a hotel closed for the winter forced to confront demons of all sorts.

The point is that as soon as that choice is made, many more possibilities vanish. Your main characters will probably not be both loveable space mercenaries and shepherds destined to save the world (I say probably because with sufficient thought and creativity applied to that problem, you could pull it off). By making that first choice and selecting a path, you are foregoing many other paths the story could take.

This can be tough as a writer, particularly a new one. Your tendency is to want to cram every cool concept and idea into whatever story you happen to be working on. That’s a mistake and can result in a story being overbloated, but an equally risky move is to try to have your story be too many types of stories, and to cover too many story possibilities, at once. It’s tricky enough to manage your enthusiasm for the length of a single book.

Then your story becomes a series, and the problems compound. Unless you (or your publisher) are inhumanly patient enough (as I see it) to hold off on releasing your series until all entries are done, you’re going to have earlier entries out there while you are still writing later entries. There’s going to be something in those earlier entries that you wish you hadn’t included upon hindsight, because it complicates a later entry by introducing a potential for a plot hole when held up against later decisions you want to make, or it just creates a dangling plot thread you wind up not wanting to address. And guess what? Unless that little issue is absurdly minor (in which case, is it really worth fixing?) you aren’t going to be fixing it. It’s out there, part of your story’s canon.

So the more you can plan ahead, especially the major stuff, the happier an author you will be. But unless your story is so heavily outlined that nothing is left to chance, there will be something you look back on and think “well, I really wish I hadn’t written that.” Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. It’s an opportunity to actually improve your story, after all!

What do I mean by that? Well, those of us who read a lot (and if you want to write fiction, you’d better be among that number) have an unconscious tendency to jump to familiar story beats when trying to plot a story out. If something in a previous volume in your series prevents you from doing this, that’s actually a good thing. Familiar story beats can be good. They are familiar for a reason, after all. But string too many of them together and you wind up with a clichéd, predictable tale. Instead, use this self-imposed obstacle as a goad to think of an unorthodox means around it. Put that creativity to work! Your story will often end up even more interesting for it.

And remember at the beginning of this blog when I talked about closing off choices? Well, here’s an area where writing a series can help. If Book 1 is a chase book, it probably also shouldn’t be a slow-burn mystery, or a heist, or a war book. But Book 2 could be one of those things. And Book 3 could be another.

Most importantly, don’t let either the infinity of choices or the inevitability of having them taken away from you impact your writing. Each story starts afresh, with limitless possibility of where it can go. And each story results in the inevitable consequence of all the decisions you make along the way.

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.

 

Welcome to Podcasts

Podcasts. They’re the new digital frontier of talk radio, full of informative content. The perfect way to kill time on a long commute. Trust me, I would know.

But podcasts aren’t all non-fiction in focus. There is a small but growing population of podcasts devoted to telling fictional stories, like the radio serials of yore. Move over The Shadow. Make way for Welcome to Night Vale.

In truth, we at Fictorians have been remiss. This post is long overdue. Night Vale has a been a Big Deal for several years now. Something like a local radio news show as written by Stephen King, Welcome to Night Vale tells the story of, in their words, “A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”

With a healthy dose of both horror and humor combined with a sneaky dash of heart, Night Vale has brought audio storytelling into a new generation. It’s a process that entails some challenges. As I mentioned, the show is done in the format of a local news radio station, only set in a town where every conspiracy theory is real and anything horrific you can imagine is probably happening at that moment. Whether it’s mysterious hooded figures marching and chanting at the local sports stadium, the discovery of a mysterious subterranean civilization beneath lane five of the local bowling alley, a doorless and windowless library inhabited by monstrous librarians that defy sane description, or a city council that appears to be comprised of the same group of individuals that founded the town several hundred years in the past, Night Vale is given all the worldbuilding depth a storyteller could ever want.

The radio host, Cecil Palmer, is the voice of the podcast and the radio show within it. Because the show is broadcast from the Night Vale Community Radio station, all action that doesn’t take place at the Night Vale Community Radio Station must be described second-hand by Cecil, who is not generally witnessing it at the time. This flies directly in the face of that age-old writing adage, “show, don’t tell.” With the exception of when Cecil broadcasting on-location or is manning his mobile broadcasting studio, all he is doing is telling you, the listener, about local events, the community calendar, and whatever existential nightmare threatens to destroy his beloved Night Vale this week.

To make matters even more challenging, the climax of an episode’s plot generally occurs “offscreen” during the news show’s “weather” segment, which (contrary to its name) is always a song from an independent music artist. Once the weather concludes, Cecil returns and explains to his listeners how the crisis was resolved, and the episode wraps.

It’s a recipe for storytelling disaster if handled poorly. Yet somehow, Welcome to Night Vale’s writers, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, make it work. Much of this credit goes to Cecil Baldwin (the actor behind Cecil Palmer). Without someone with his gravitas (his deep voice recalls trusted anchors of days gone by even as his frequent weirdness and goofiness reminds us what era it really is), the show’s format would absolutely fall apart. But the writing style is pitch-perfect for the format, and framing the story as a news segment, something we are all used to hearing told to us in the past tense, is a big part of why it works as well. This serves as yet another example of how for every rule of writing, there exist innumerable exceptions that succeed just fine.

The podcast picks and chooses its conventions well. In the past, seasons would generally have an overarching plot that played out in the background of the more focused, single-episode stories. Only in the last few episodes of the “season” (which spans a full year of real-world time, roughly 25 episodes, much like a network TV season), would the overarching story move into the foreground and come to a head. With the most recent season, they have broken the stories into a series of three-parters which have little connectivity beyond the characters and setting. And in the best tradition of shows like The Simpsons, they’ve populated their town with lots of quirky, lovable characters who grow and change with time.

But the show also experiments quite a bit within the confines of the format as well. In one episode, they recommend wearing headphones, because they play with which ear you can hear the audio feed from. It proves effectively creepy and disorienting, especially if you are listening alone. In one early episode, one of my favorites, they address the entire episode (titled “A Story About You”) to you, the listener, casting you as one particular resident of Night Vale who is having, shall we say, a bad day.

They’ve also created a series of live shows, where attendees can go experience a specially written, extra-long episode which changes every tour. These episodes are written specifically with live audience participation in mind, and with the assumption that attendees may never have listened to the show before. I’ve been to three of these shows myself, and they are a unique experience while still being utterly Night Vale.

Storytelling is a constantly evolving art form. Sometimes, an old form of storytelling, the oldest form, in fact, comes back in a new and different format. Some things about it change while others stay the same, but if done well, the total result is something new and special.

I’ll close with one of my favorite Night Vale quotes, and quotes in general, of all time:

“Before everything, before even humans, there were stories. A creature at a fire conjuring a world with nothing but its voice and a listener’s imagination. And now, me, and thousands like me, in little booths and rooms and mics and screens all over the world, doing the same for a family of listeners, connected as all families are, primarily by the stories we tell each other.

And after, after fire, and death, or whatever happens next, after the wiping clean or the gradual decay, after the after…when there are only a few creatures left, there will be one at a fire, telling a story to what family it has left. It was the first thing, and it will be the last.”

Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 71, “The Registry of Middle School Crushes”

 

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.

 

Setting the Table for a Month About Setting

 

 

[Coordinator’s note: I will not apologize for my setting pun]

Plot. Character. Setting. The three elements of stories. They don’t always appear in equal measure. We’ve all seen or read a story that was more a character piece, lacking significant plot. And all one has to do is head to their local movie theater in the summertime to see the latest big-budget blockbuster with paper-thin “characters” barely worthy of the name. But how many times have you encountered a story without a setting? A story has to happen somewhere, after all.

Think of setting like the foundation of a house. Everything is built atop it, and if it’s poorly put-together, the entire story will be shaky. Characters are often the product of their setting, at least in part. A plucky hero trying to escape from forced labor in a pitch-dark mine will necessarily be different than a plucky hero who grew up in a quiet, picturesque hamlet, like the one in my photo above (fun fact, that particular picturesque hamlet is believed to have been the inspiration for Tolkien’s Rivendell). Plot, too, flows in part from setting. If the neighboring kingdom’s frequent droughts force them to invade the plucky hero’s home, well, that’s setting driving plot!

During the month of July, I’ve asked the Fictorians and several guests to think up their best posts on the broad topic of setting. We’ll be seeing posts about how to research settings, how to use settings to reinforce the other aspects of your story, and, just to contradict everything I argued above, even a post for when stories don’t have settings at all!

So if your real-world setting, like mine, is unbearably hot these days, join us in front of your screen of choice and let’s learn about setting together. I feel confident in setting my expectations high. [Still not apologizing]

 

 

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, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia 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.

 

Wisdom in Abundance – The Characters of Daniel Abraham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve touted Daniel Abraham’s work on this blog before. It’s no secret I admire his writing as much as any other author working today. Recently, a friend asked me why. There’s plenty of reasons that come easy to hand: prose that is neither too flowery nor too spare, his ability to balance plot, pacing, character, and depth of worldbuilding into a melange that doesn’t rely too heavy on any one ingredient. But of course, there are plenty of other authors that can claim similar skills, and after my friend asked, I realized I’d never really figured out that extra something Abraham brings to his work that keeps me coming back.

The Special Sauce, if you will.

I turned my gaze inward and pondered this for awhile, and hit upon the answer in the most meta way possible. Because that very act was my answer.

Whether he’s writing epic fantasy that spans the lives of a small handful of characters, co-writing a science fiction series (with co-author Ty Franck) that somehow manages to be space opera, hard(ish) sci-fi, and character-centric all at once, or writing a different epic fantasy that does so much awesome stuff I can’t even describe it without making this sentence absurdly long (I tried), Abraham’s books have one constant: characters who think about their actions, both before and after, in the larger context against which they are set. He brings a literary quality to his characters, not enough to bog down plot or pacing, just enough to make them real. Let me try and explain with a few character sketches:

A widow who mourns her husband while acknowledging that he died fighting for the wrong cause. She contemplates the pointlessness and waste–and inevitability–of war even as she sets out to steer her war toward the least bad conclusion.

A detective who believes that saving one missing person from becoming just another statistic in a hardscrabble universe can redeem him from a lifetime of bad decisions he made almost unconsciously. And all the while, he drives a wedge between the human connections that could actually save him, and does so entirely knowingly.

A former priest of a dangerous and destructive cult who recognizes what he once represented as both evil and false and walks away from it, only to find himself drawn back into the fight to stop its spread years later.

A mage who destroys the world through his desire to protect those he loves and their way of life, and in his guilt and desperation to repair the damage, risks destroying even what little remains.

A gentle boy long tormented by his peers until he grows into a man capable of immense cruelty while a portion of him still remains kind and gentle. He is (entirely believably) both monstrous and good at the same time.

These characters act in altruistic manners, or they self-deceive for self-interest, or they desperately try to right wrongs they believe themselves guilty of, falsely or not. Yet in Abraham’s expert hands, all of them have something in common, a hard-won, often tragic wisdom that comes from self-examination (sometimes too late) and a desire to do what is right even if they can’t see what that is.

I know many readers aren’t fans of so-called “navel-gazing” (a term I hate) as a trait in characters. But trust me when I say that Abraham handles this with the same aplomb and balance as he handles his books’ other elements. I’m not certain self-examination of the depth Abraham explores occurs with the same frequency in real-life people, but to the author’s credit, it never bogs down his stories, instead strengthening his recurring themes of growth coming at a cost.

Regardless of what genre he hops into (he’s also got a paranormal romance series, and I can’t wait to see what characters his promised cosmic horror novel novel introduces) Abraham brings us the same quality and depth of characters. It’s this knack that keeps me coming back over and over to his writing.

 

 

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, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia 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.