Tag Archives: planning

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.


Book Signing Crisis Management

Book signings are a lot of fun! They’re fun for the readers, they’re fun for the authors, and they’re fun for the stores hosting them…most of the time. As the event coordinator for an indie bookstore I’ve learned that with book signings, like any public event, there are many things that can go wrong. Most of them are minor and are easily dealt with. Others, like the time an author cancelled at the last minute because they had to attend a relative’s murder trial, are not so little. Whether it’s a minor problem or not, knowing what to do can prevent it from becoming an embarrassing incident for everyone involved.

The first thing to keep in mind is don’t panic. Book signings are organized chaos. Event coordinators (which I’ll refer to as EC for the rest of the post) and event staff are usually really good at mitigating the chaos so all the author has to do is sit back and enjoy their time with their readers. Here’s some of the more common problems and how to deal with them:

Problem: life forces you to cancel.

Illness happens, injuries happen, and deaths in the family are an unfortunate part of life. It’s okay to cancel. Let the EC know as soon as you can. If you live within driving distance or know you’ll be in the area in the near future ask if you can reschedule. After you’ve talked to the EC spread word on social media that the event has been cancelled. Similarly if you’re stuck in traffic and are going to be late, let the EC know and all will be well.

Problem: the store runs out of books.

As far as problems go this one isn’t that bad. Yeah, the fans that aren’t able to buy a signed copy that day will be upset but the situation is out of your control. If you want to appease fans you can offer to send signed bookplates to the store that they can insert into books when they have stock again but I want to emphasize that it’s not your responsibility to rectify the situation. It’s the store’s. Anything you choose to do to make fans happy is good PR for you.

Problem: fans who won’t walk away.

Sometimes a fan is so excited in the moment that they forget that there are people in line behind them. They want to talk to you about all the things. If the EC or a staff member is helping with the line let them usher the chatty person on. If there isn’t but you can discretely signal one, do that. If that’s not an option then politely ask the person to step aside so you can see to the rest of the line. If the person who won’t go away is being rude or doing/saying things that make you uncomfortable/feel unsafe, don’t worry about being polite or discrete. Get a staff member to remove them immediately.

Problem: no one comes.

Sadly despite the store’s and your best efforts there are events where it’s just you and the staff. Don’t take it personally. I’ve seen this happen to NYT bestsellers. (Seriously, I have!) The last thing you want to do is to dink around on your phone or whip out the laptop to write. Say hi to customers that you pass and tell them about your books. You could also start reading your work aloud.

Don’t go to your book signing expecting something to go wrong. Most of the time everything goes smoothly, and as I said at the beginning, everyone has a lot of fun. If it doesn’t, remember that the EC and their staff are there for you. Long before you arrive they’ve been hard at work to make sure that the space is ready, the event has been publicized, and your books are in stock. They’ve got your back. Taking care of you is their job.


Find out more about Kim here: http://www.fictorians.com/the-fictorians/kim-may/

Don’t Throw The Game For One Goal

A Guest Post by Jessica Brawner

In football, the kicker takes the field. He kicks the tiny oblong ball through the gigantic goalposts, and the crowd goes wild! Cheering, clapping, praise and acclaim! That’s what we all want; to hear that wild clapping when we achieve a goal, someone to praise us when we did well, to pat us on the back, or in the case of sports fans, dump a cooler full of Gatorade over our head. Right?

What if we missed? What if we didn’t make the goal? Do we get the dreaded mass groan and boo? Do we lose the whole game?

The answer in football is—sometimes. Thankfully the writing process is not a spectator sport, nor does it hinge on one decision. Our misses are seen only by ourselves and the editor who sent us the rejection letter. We all miss sometimes, and even the best kickers in history don’t have a perfect record. Do we beat ourselves up until we’re black and blue for every goal we didn’t make? (I hope not! That’s not much motivation to continue is it?)

So you missed your goal. WHY did you miss your goal? Take a few moments to re-evaluate and see where things went sideways.

Did you miss the deadline? What happened?

Was there a life event that got in the way? Or were you just not motivated enough to sit down and get the words out? Are you using the one as an excuse for the other? (Hint: life always gets in the way. Learn to work around it.) Try setting a reasonable daily word count. For some people this may be 200 words, for others it may be 2000. Look at your life circumstances and what you want to achieve with your writing and set a plan or a playbook that works for you.

Does your writing or storytelling need improvement?

Find a mentor, or take one of the many, many online (or in person!) classes available. Find one that focuses on what you need to improve. Go to a writing boot-camp!

Were your eyes too big for your stomach? (Or did you set a goal that you’re not ready to reach yet?) It’s great to aim for the really big prize; it’s how we ended up with airplanes and rockets and a host of other scientific and artistic inventions. Remember though, each large advancement required intermediate goals to reach the big prize. Make sure you are setting the mid-size goals as well as larger goals.

An example, I would like to put out a book of short stories at the end of next year and have my business, Story of the Month Club (www.storyofthemonthclub.com) to a level where we can pay authors professional rates. These are both large goals. To achieve the first I have joined a group to write 52 stories in 52 weeks. A story a week. Taken as a whole it’s intimidating, but broken down I have set a small goal for every week of next year. If I fail one week, I can succeed the next, and if I succeed enough times I will have enough stories for a book. Success or failure does not hinge on one goal.

For Story of the Month Club, it will probably take longer than a year, but I have laid out a plan and several strategies for progress. The point is to keep going, keep striving, and keep trying. (And try new things!)

If the kicker misses a field goal, the coach doesn’t beat him up about it (much); the coach makes him practice more. Good kickers practice and persevere until they can do their job with their eyes closed and one hand tied behind their back while facing down five defensive ogres. All skillsets require practice. Have patience with yourself. Set reasonable AND stretch goals. Have a playbook to guide you.



Jessica Brawner writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her first book, Charisma +1: The Guide to Convention Etiquette for Gamers, Geeks and the Socially Awkward was released through WordFire Press in 2014. You can find out more about Jessica on her website at www.jessicabrawner.com