Playing with Other People’s Toys (Part II)

This is part two of an Essay I started on Monday, dealing with the fun and frustration of writing fiction for franchise tie-ins, specifically as it relates to the work I’ve done for the Pathfinder RPG.

As I said in the previous essay, there’s a lot of fun in being allowed to play with other people’s toys, provided that you show care and respect. This holds doubly true where gaming fiction is concerned, because you end up walking a delicate tightrope between including effects that reader-players recognize and can understand with trying to keep them from thinking “Somebody just botched their Stealth check”.

With Pathfinder, I had certain elements that had to be included. Knowing that one of the characters was a spellcaster, I had to constantly think of ways that magic could be used to short circuit the plot I’d laid out. Having readers think “Why didn’t he turn invisible/teleport/levitate” out of that situation only added more complexity. I ended up keeping a list of all the spells available to that character tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk, and would look at for every scene to ask which spells might throw a wrench into the works.

The biggest issue for me, however, was presenting a thrilling story that felt like a tabletop session with it reading like one. My approach to that was to focus on a single point of view and tell the tale from as tightly restricted a POV as I could. This does lead to some interesting times – the central character in Feast of Fools is self-centered and somewhat lacking in the brains category, and he tends to interpret the events around him in the most favorable light towards himself. Still, there are moments (the Featherfall stands out) where what’s happening is obvious to the reader even if it’s not to Ollix.

In all, I had a blast writing for Pathfinder – it’s a great world, with a rich pulpy feel and can tell all kinds of stories just by moving from region to region. With luck they’ll let me shave the nib on my pen and revisit.

Playing with Other People’s Toys (Part I)

I’ve had the opportunity to do some writing in other people’s worlds – something that presents a unique set of issues for most writers. As a result, I thought I’d present my thoughts in a pair of essays looking at the challenges and rewards of this unique calling.

First, some background – in addition to my own writing, I have had the good fortune to write stories set in the Pathfinder fantasy setting (from Paizo Publishing), work in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire setting with Green Ronin, and did service as a contract writer for Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. There are plenty of people with more Tie-in work than I have, but hey, it’s my blog. I also contributed to the New Ceres shared-world setting, for the anthology New Ceres Nights – while not tie-in per se, the similarities between Shared World and Tie-in loom large.

Why, with all the possible words and worlds that every writer has kicking around in his or her head, would anyone chose to do Tie-In Work? A lot of big names have answered that question before me, most recently in an essay over on IO9. For me, it had a lot to do with love. I have a real affection for the properties with which I worked, and I hope that carries through in the stuff I did for them. I can’t imagine writing for a setting I didn’t like – the research and quibbling over details would become a lot less like geeking out and a lot more like hard work.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of work involved. Just like writing a Historical novel, you have to do your fair share of research (probably more than you think you need). You’re working with material that people love and respect, and which in many cases has a lot of standing history. You’ll want to remember when “X” was introduced to the canon, or how a particular setting handles the everyday elements of life, like food and cleansing.

There is a real feeling of being part of something larger than myself when I work with a tie-in property. I get to add to the mythology of the vast scopes, and invest them with a small piece of myself. In return, I have to promise not to break the toys I’ve been privileged to deal with – I can’t destroy things out of hand, or upset the balance too much (without permission). I can’t level cities or upend empires, but that means I can concentrate on the kinds of stories I prefer – small tales of people who make do in the world and hope for the best.

On Wednesday, I’ll talk a little bit about the specific coolness and challenges of writing fiction for a game setting without making it sound like a recap of my Sunday night D&D session.