Publishing U: Writing Video Game-Inspired Fiction

Our readers are often curious about the process of writing and publishing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts. In this installment of Publishing U, Danica Davidson, author of two middle-grade fiction series inspired by Minecraft, lets us know how to engage children who very well might rather be playing video games. 

 

Story comes first. This is true no matter what you write. If you get bogged down in semantics, try to please everyone, or attempt to include everything, your book won’t work.

But what if the book you’re trying to write is set in a preexisting universe that feels real to millions of kids? Three years ago, I devised to answer this very question when I wrote my debut novel, Escape from the Overworld, a book inspired by Minecraft, the beloved Lego-like building game.

Danica Davidson

Overworld introduces Stevie, an 11-year-old boy in the Minecraft world who finds a portal to Earth and learns there’s a crazy, nonblocky world out there—a world where people have fingers and cars and schools and (most engaging and terrifying of all) the internet. In the midst of his culture shock, Stevie also makes friends with an 11-year-old Earth girl named Maison, and the two set off on a series of escapades. The first series, Overworld Adventures, proved so successful that it warranted a spinoff, Overworld Heroes Adventures, the first book of which came out this week.

This all came about after I had sold my book Manga Art for Beginners to Sky Pony Press and they asked if I had any Minecraft-related pitches. At that time, I been playing Minecraft for only a short while. At first, I was a little nervous that I didn’t know enough about the game, so I played more and talked to more seasoned Minecraft fans. Knowing I wanted to do something more creative than a how-to-play guide, I sent in a several-paragraph proposal for a middle-grade adventure novel, and within a week, I had a contract. Since then, fan input has remained important to me: I always ask the fans what they think of my new ideas before I send them along to my publisher.

I set these books in a universe where Minecraft really exists and put in plenty of inside references (Stevie, whose name derives from Minecraft protagonist Steve, initially thinks cars are minecarts and that people in Halloween costumes are monsters). Although these play for laughs, the references also touch on how much people are influenced by the culture around them, and how it can be useful to look at things from an outside perspective.

While each book is a self-contained story, the series have arcs, and the mysteries brought up in the first book of the spinoff series will be answered in the last. And while the books are inspired by having Minecraft as a setting, all the characters, storylines, and goings-on are my creations. I wrote a lot as a kid, and I pulled out the stories I wrote at 11 to tap into the right voice for Stevie. My books are meant to be fun, with lots of action, humor, and heart.

I always try to go for the raw emotions kids feel in everyday situations—not fitting in at a new school, having trouble making friends, feeling unsure about where they stand in the world—to give characters depth and heart. Because I include lots of adventure, the real-life issues the characters face complement the extraordinary things happening, rather than overshadow them. I sometimes find it’s easier to talk about real-world things when you blur them with the fantastic: the narrative still feels real, but it’s not so crude or close to home. It puts a mirror up to what we’re really dealing with while letting your imagination run wild.

Most of my chapters end in cliffhangers, and I like to put in twists that the readers (hopefully) won’t see coming. You don’t always know whom you can trust, and danger is constantly around the corner. This is to keep up with the heart-pounding excitement found in many video games, so that kids can maintain the same quick pace while reading.

Since I started writing these books, I’ve heard from a lot from kids and parents. The most common responses from parents fall along the lines of, “My kids don’t like to read, and they can’t put these down,” or “I didn’t understand Minecraft before, and it makes a little more sense now.” Usually, kids are excited to see their favorite game as a book. They tell me what parts of the book excited them the most (always the most dangerous parts) and how much they enjoy the friendships and interactions of characters. I’m especially touched when I hear from kids who say the books describe their feelings.

I find that when kids say don’t like to read, they sometimes haven’t found books that speak to them. If Minecraft speaks to them, I want to be ready with good stories to tell, stories that will engage them and take them to Minecraft and beyond.

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