Reigning in Parallel Worlds

This post was originally published on author J.P. Choquette’s blog after she contacted me and asked if I’d go a bit into the process of writing interactive fiction. I liked the essay so much, I wanted to make sure my subscribers got to check it out, so you’ll find the full piece below. You should also check out J.P.’s website, she brings a great many different voices together and it’s worth a perusal.

Reigning in Parallel Worlds

by James Schannep

The main characters in INFECTED choose to wait out the zombie apocalypse inside their home, boarded up and barricaded, with enough supplies to wait out doomsday. They also leave the city in search of fellow survivors and greener pastures. Oh, and they also become zombies themselves.

No, my characters are not schizophrenic (and neither am I!), they just exist in parallel worlds.

What do I mean? Click Your Poison books are gamebooks—wherein you, the reader, choose how the story progresses. Each CYP title has three unique storylines and over fifty possible endings. Because of this “many possibilities” quality to interactive fiction, different readers will experience different outcomes and have a rather different reading experience from one another. It’s my job, as the author, to keep all these parallel worlds straight.

The problem is, every decision expands the storylines; sometimes familiar to one another, but other times they become drastically altered. Their worlds grow too large to exist solely within the confines of my head! I literally can’t keep them all straight; not by memory alone. So how do I do it? Just like in the real world—I use maps. Almost on a daily basis I’m forced to pause, stop writing, and think, “Wait, is this person dead here? And does this other character currently hate you or love you?” That’s when I check the maps.

Level one is my world map: the outline. In any novel, you need a beginning, middle, and end, with a logical pathway through the three. At the most basic level, the outline keeps the overarching plot on track towards the eventual destination(s).

Level two, interstates and roadside attractions: the chronology. Here I’ll keep a chart in Excel. Important plot points form the x-axis (time) and major storylines/characters form the y-axis (events). This helps me know which events happen at what time.

Level three, city streets, dark alleys, slums and shortcuts: the flowchart. This is my bread and butter. Without the flowchart, none of the other maps matter. The flowchart tells me, if you make decision A (attempt to play dead to avoid zombies), it will lead to outcome B (get eaten!). Often times the path will change slightly and I’ll have to go back, edit the story, and change outcomes. Without the flowchart, that would be impossible. Below, you can see a rough scrap from my latest CYP book as an example.

Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damned hard writing.” If my process sounds excruciatingly difficult, good. My job (in addition to keeping the parallel worlds straight), is to make it look effortless inside the story. Your experience making decisions as reader should be smooth and clean, despite the complexity and ambiguity of the actual decisions themselves.

The real test of all this behind-the-scenes planning is your experience. So go ahead, dive into INFECTED and see if you have what it takes to survive the zombie apocalypse!

 


 

Feel free to share, comment, and like!

Mystery/Thriller Sale!

Starting now, MURDERED is on a Kindle Countdown Deal — so it’s $0.99 today, up to $1.99 on Friday, $2.99 on Sunday, before going back up to the original price of $3.99 next Monday.

On Sale 21-27 April
On Sale 21-27 April 2014, only on Amazon.

3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question… Could YOU Solve a Murder?

MURDERED is a mystery novel unlike any other — YOU are the main character. Follow clues, interrogate suspects, and piece together the puzzle before the killer gets away! It’s up to you to solve the case in this action-packed, dark and humorous thriller. Each link represents a choice, and the story evolves based on your decisions.

You’re in a dark alley, a lost tourist in Brazil, when you stumble across a woman’s body and a revolver atop a grisly note which reads, “PICK ME UP.” That’s when you realize you’re not alone….

What starts as an exotic vacation ends up as the opportunity of a lifetime when you inadvertently witness a man fleeing the scene of a murder. Work side-by-side with US Diplomatic Security agents (DSS) and Brazilian Police Officers inside the lawless slums of Rio de Janeiro — but choose wisely, no one is who they truly seem to be.

Get MURDERED!

Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

★★★★★ “I grew up with Choose Your own Adventure Novels, and I love how the Click Your Poison books take the conceit into the digital age. …a gripping mystery packed with action set against an exotic Brazilian backdrop. This is a novel that you control.” — William Massa, Hollywood screenwriter and Amazon bestselling author of Fear the Light: Who Murdered Dracula?

★★★★★ “MURDERED…solid writing, humor, mystery, thrills and…the opportunity to investigate and solve a murder…” — Zach Tyo, reviewer, indiebookreviewer.blogspot.com

If you’ve read the book, now would be a great time to leave a review on amazon or to share your thoughts on goodreads. Please tell your friends about the sale and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (toolbar on left) for future sales and specials!

Judge a Series by its Cover? Opinions Please!

Instantly recognizable, right? Those are the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, one of the original gamebook series.

For Click Your Poison, several readers have suggested that my covers should have a similar “connected” look. Or, at the very least, something on the cover that lets you know it’s “Interactive Fiction” or a “Text-based Adventure.”

I must say, it makes sense. I love my covers for INFECTED and MURDERED, but they don’t really look connected to one another in any way. I could still keep the images, but maybe in a different design scheme.

One fan suggested a design reference to the old InfoCom games, a callback to when all video games were essentially text-based adventures. The original company is defunct, but they certainly had that “connected” feel. And there it is, all the info you need, right on the cover.

I think a call-back to old games could work pretty well. Maybe not something exactly like this, but a “cartridge” design might not be a bad look for a “gamebook.”

Super_Infected

So, what do you think? Whether you’re a casual reader or a student of design, I’d love to get your thoughts!

MURDERED by X-mas!

The MURDERED paperback release is officially upon us, and if you order today, you’ll get the book in time for Christmas!

AmaxmasAs a bonus, did you know that both INFECTED and MURDERED are part of Amazon’s matchbook program? That means if you purchase either Click Your Poison title as a paperback, you can download the kindle edition for only $0.99. Makes a great gift! Give the paperback to a loved one and download the kindle file for yourself (or vice versa).

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
-JS

 

Amateur Detective Contest!

AVAILABLE NOW: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H3T9TAI

Ever read a whodunit where you outwitted the main character? Ever watched a murder mystery where you outfoxed the gumshoe? Grab your pipe and magnifying glass, super sleuth, it’s time to test your powers of deduction in Click Your Poison’s Amateur Detective Contest!

murdered_promo

How does it work? MURDERED is a murder mystery unlike any other, where YOU are the main character and must solve the crime by making choices. To see what I mean, try out a sample here.

The Kindle edition of MURDERED released on Amazon on Thursday, 5 December 2013. That’s when the contest starts. One grandprize winner will receive the *first ever* signed paperback copy (the paperback release date is 12 December 2013), annotated as such and congratulating you on your prowess as a detective. You’ll also receive an autographed copy of INFECTED or a $25 amazon gift certificate (your choice) AND a collectible INFECTED wine glass (to toast to your success). That’s over $50 in prizes!

Oooh, sparkly!
Oooh, sparkly!

How do I win? The contest is simple. Once the ebook is released, the first reader to email me the correct identity of the story’s villain (along with your proof) wins the grand prize. That’s it! It’s a race against time to piece together the clues.

PS — You MUST email me the via the contact form. If you publicly spoil the story, you’re disqualified. Also, you’ll make me sad.

Good luck and happy hunting!

UPDATE: We have a winner…

MURDERED Cover Reveal

I just sent off the edited, final manuscript off for formatting. That means we’re almost there. And that means the next announcement will be a release date!

Drum roll, please…. Check out this gorgeous cover by artist Nikki Jansen (who also did the INFECTED cover):

Could YOU Solve a Murder?
Could YOU Solve a Murder?

MURDERED is the next in the Click Your Poison series, a thrilling murder mystery where YOU must solve the case. Interrogate suspects, follow clues, and get into (or avoid) gunfights, all in an effort to catch the killer. Think you’re up for the task?

This Book Could Save You!

Recently, I was paid my highest compliment as a writer to date. I was told by a reader, “Your book got me through Hurricane Sandy.”

With the paperback edition, you can take INFECTED anywhere.

Wow, huge. I’m not sure there’s any greater calling for fiction. If there are three goals for entertainment I see them as: 1) Help escape the dreary or the mundane, 2) Inspire & foster creativity, and 3) Teach us something about the world. I’m honored to have met #1 for at least one reader.

To say, “Thanks!” to all my readers, I’m hosting a giveaway before INFECTED releases in paperback this Thanksgiving. Less than 1.5 days left to enter! And in the Holiday spirit, share share share this link: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter to win at Rafflecopter or on Facebook.

Okay, maybe it won’t really save you. Unless the zombie apocalypse happens just as described. But in that case, you’re welcome.

Mind-blowing Fiction

Looking for something to blow your mind? Look no further.

Reading the new INFECTED paperback has been known to kill boredom.
Use at your own discretion.

Only 3.5 days left in the giveaway. In case you missed yesterday’s announcement: INFECTED will be out in paperback just in time for Thanksgiving, and to give “Thanks!” to all my readers, I’m hosting a giveaway. And in the Holiday spirit, share share share this link: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter to win at Rafflecopter or on Facebook.

Scripts vs Novels

Disclaimer: I am not a legal professional, and nothing found on this site should be taken as legal advice.  Always consult an attorney.

I’ve already written about the differences of Screenwriting vs Prose from a writer’s perspective.  Now I’d like to touch a little on the differences between the finished products: Scripts (screenplays) and Novels (books).  Physically, here you go:

The Script: Three-hole-punched 8 1/2″ x 11″ computer printed paper, bound with two brads.
A Book: Bound pages, professionally printed, in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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As for the format?  There’s plenty of nuts and bolts books written on formatting screenplays and you can google manuscript specifications for agents or publishers (or ebook format), so if you’re looking for that, keep looking.

What I’d really like to talk about in this post is what the rights a writer keeps if they sell a script versus selling a novel.

Here’s what it boils down to: when you sell a screenplay, you are (generally) selling the whole thing.  It’s no longer yours.  Other writers can (and probably will) make changes to your story without your permission.  When you sell a novel, you’re still the copyright holder and it’s still your writing, you’ve just given the publishing house the rights to print and sell it.

As a writer in the US, you have far more rights as a novelist than as a screenwriter.  In Europe, screenwriters have more rights, but for this purpose–I’m talking only about American writers making deals with American production companies.

There are ways to keep certain rights to a screenplay, such as the extremely complicated Theatrical Separated Rights.  On the flipside, there’s also terrifying loopholes like Hollywood Accounting, where you might never even get paid.  For the most part, though, screenwriters aren’t even allowed to distribute the very scripts they wrote once they’re sold.

But as a novelist, you keep your copyright.  Even if your book is getting adapted to film–in which case you only license the material to the studio, allowing them to make the film, much like you allowed a publisher to print the book.

Really, we can chase this rabbit down the hole as far as we want, but I think if we go much further we’ll need a pack of lawyers to read the map.  So… that’s it for now.

Lesson learned: write the book first.  Sell it twice, keep the rights!