Yesterday I unveiled the table of contests for The New Hero.
It is our mission to bring you exciting fiction that crosses genres and writing scenes. Our hope is that we can extend the community spirit we take for granted in the tabletop roleplaying scene to a distinctive and surprising fiction line. Toward that end, I thought I’d take you behind the scenes a little bit for a look at the process of ordering the stories.
With The New Hero, I had an unusual luxury: we commissioned a follow-up volume at the same time. Volume Two will be our third release, after Shotguns v. Cthulhu. Most of the stories for that are also already in hand, and again I’m extremely pleased with the results.
One of my high-class problems in putting these books together is that the list of folks I’d like to work with is too long. Just the RPG folks alone could more than fill two books. Also we want to bring in select writers from the F/SF, literary and media worlds. Doing the two books at once gave me greater flexibility than I’d normally have in building an ideal balance of writers and stories.
In dividing stories between volumes I’ve had to make sure that both are equally impressive, but this part of the task proved unexpectedly easy. The overall quality of the work exceeded my expectations, sparing me the need to find unobtrusive slots for merely acceptable pieces.
Instead I found myself balancing by genre, and by writing scene. The New Hero books are based on a structural premise, not a generic one. Each concerns an iconic hero who is not changed by the world, but instead restores order and changes the world by remaining true to his or her essential values. (I’ve talked about this before on my personal blog and in Hamlet’s Hit Points.
For example, contemporary supernatural stories proved very popular with writers. This is unsurprising, considering the heat surrounding this genre at the moment. Stories fitting this vibe had to be roughly divided between the two books.
Once I had the divisions down, I then had to determine the story order. That’s where I got all charty. As is my wont, I dragged Profantasy’s Campaign Cartographer kicking and screaming from its map-making function to serve my sinister diagram-making purposes. If you don’t know it, it’s a CAD based program that allows you to treat each item in a map or diagram as a separate unit, allowing you to easily move them around and transform them at needed. Its symbol function permits the easy import of symbols from PNG files. With this I was able to create images that served as quick visual reminders of the various considerations I had to balance while ordering the stories.
The factors, in addition to genre and writing scene, were:
- narrative view (first or third person)
- tense (past or present)
- tone (up or downbeat)
- story length
I also found that several of the stories shared broadly similar premises. Given that there are only so many distinct McGuffins that a hero can pursue, I don’t see this as a problem—so long as they don’t show up right next to one another.
On the chart, the symbols after the box listing the story, author and genres are view, tense, tone, premise, and length.
So that’s a total of seven factors to consider in arranging fourteen stories for one anthology. I started knowing I want to slot certain stories into particular key locations. From there I juggled and rejuggled the remaining entries, seeking to distribute the rarer entries, throughout the book.
I imagine the process of ordering tracks for an album relies on a similar matrix of considerations: length, tempo, likely hits, distribution of voices for a band with multiple vocalists, and so on.
After all the prep, the eventual cascade of choices fell together quickly. Then came the final tinkering phase. It reminded me of picking film festival tickets at TIFF. As with TIFF, I can’t imagine doing it without the chart.
Holy Cow! And I thought I put a lot of concentration into story order in RBE’s anthologies!