05 March 2010

Guest Blogger - Author George Ivanoff

Writing Gamers’ Quest

Ford Street Publishing. Australian, Junior, Young Adult. Paperback RRP $16.95

How did my teen science fiction novel, Gamers’ Quest, come into being?

It all started with a call from Paul Collins at Ford Street Publishing. He was putting together a short story anthology called Trust Me! and wanted to know if I would contribute a story. Of course, I said YES!

Then I sat down in front of the television and started channel surfing. No, I wasn’t procrastinating… I was conducting research. I ended up watching a doco on the ABC about online computer gaming. By the time I had finished watching the programme, I knew what my story would be.

“Game Plan” was based on the following premise: if ordinary people, who live ordinary lives, escape their mundane existence by playing high action games full of fantasy, danger and death, what sort of games would be played by people who lived extraordinary lives in fantastical surrounds filled with death and danger on a daily basis? And so I had a story about two teenage thieves, Tark and Zyra, fighting their way through extraordinary challenges to reach a place called Designers Paradise, where they would escape their lives for a short while, playing a quiet, peaceful virtual reality game called Suburbia. It was a short story leading towards a twist ending. I was happy with it. It was published. And that was that… or so I thought.

Next thing you know, Paul Collins is telling me that fellow author, Meredith Costain, thought that “Game Plan” would make a good basis for a novel. Never one to pass up an opportunity, I turned to Paul and said: “Well, if I write it, will you publish it?” To which he responded: “Well, when you’ve written an outline, send it to me and we’ll see.”

It took me several weeks and numerous re-writes before I had an outline that I was happy with. Then I wrote the first four chapters, and emailed them to Paul with the outline. Two days later I had an email with feedback and a contract. Nine full drafts later, I had a novel.

How did I turn a 2,000-word short story into a 35,000-word novel? It was not simply a matter of expanding the existing plot, although I did do a bit of that. The twist at the end of the story was not enough to sustain an entire novel — so it became a jumping off point to further the plot. Where the short story ends as the protagonists enter the Suburbia game, the novel continues. Whereas the story simply led to a twist, the novel explores questions of reality and identity.

It goes without saying that I had to flesh out the characters. I also changed a couple of the characters around. The main villain from the story, a thief called the Cracker, became the secondary villain in the novel. The minor villain from the story, the Fat Man, who was there merely to be robbed, evolved into the primary villain. I also ended up introducing a new major character, as I felt the plot needed someone who was neither hero nor villain. Princeling Galbrath is a spoiled and vengeful kid who looks out for number one. But he is also lonely and unhappy with his life. At first he’s portrayed as a villain, but as the story progresses, he ends up helping Tark and Zyra. When the novel reaches its climax, Galbrath is faced with a choice as to which side to join. His choice ends up being the deciding factor in the climax.

One of my biggest decisions with the novel was to try to give it the feel of a computer game. There are different classes and levels of player, and there are different rules that apply to the different levels.

The world that Tark and Zyra inhabit has the pace and excitement of a computer game, along with a feeling of tongue-in-cheek fun. It is non-stop action, and there is no sense of night and day. The characters progress from one challenge to the next, without sleeping or eating, with no real sense of time, until they reach their goal. Once the characters reach that goal, I felt okay about slowing things down a little.

Things changed, of course, during the many re-writes, as the manuscript went back and forth between the editor, the publisher and me. Scenes were added, chapters deleted and a change or two to make the book age-appropriate for the 11+ market. In the end, I’m really pleased with the final novel. Reviews have been great and, more importantly, feedback from teenage readers has been terrific. Now, if only it would soar into best-seller status!

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