Have you ever seen an entertainment franchise, and thought to yourself, “I’d love to write a story in that world”?
Have you ever seen an entertainment franchise—be it Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, or Game of Thrones—and thought to yourself, “I’d love to write a story in that world”?
Well, some people do, post it online, and it’s called fan fiction (and there’s some awesome fanfic out there, don’t you doubt). At the same time, other people do, get paid for it, and it’s called tie-in writing. I fell into the latter category when I was contracted to write stories for Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales, a tie-in fiction line to the Pathfinder roleplaying game. So far, my work has included short stories such as “The Weeping Blade”, “Hunter’s Folly”, “The Price Paid”, and my novel, Forge of Ashes.
And lemme tell you, it’s been a blast! Sadly, some people think tie-in writing is a sell-out approach to the craft, or it never can match the quality of “original” work. For me, though, writing tie-in tales is an amazing and fulfilling creative challenge that I definitely want to continue doing more of. Yes, it has its drawbacks and downsides, but I find the pros far outweigh the cons. Let’s discuss.
The Burnt Toast of Tie-In Fiction
- Rights Ownership – Those characters and plot elements you came up with? You can’t take them and go off to write and sell more related stories. Those rights remain with the IP owners (Paizo Publishing, in the case of the Pathfinder universe), and you can only use them when you’ve got the contract to do so.
- No Ego Allowed – You don’t get final say in how the story turns out. Your editor does. So once they pay you for the work, they can do whatever they want with it—changing names, genders, removing/adding scenes, whatever. Have a problem with them messing up your creative vision? Tough. They’ll find someone else to write it.
- Mind the Boundaries – When you go to write a tie-in story, you have to take the established lore into account and work within it. And when it comes to games, you also have to deal with the mechanics and rules so you don’t break the system. You have to “color inside the lines.”
The Sunny-Side Up of Tie-In Fiction!
- Done-for-You Worldbuilding – Plenty of the heavy lifting has already been completed, with maps drawn, creatures fleshed out, mythology established, and magic systems constructed. Sure, you may have to do some research to get familiar enough with it all, but you’re being handed plenty of toys ready to play with.
- The Creative Challenge – Just because you’re limited by a pre-constructed reality or game mechanics doesn’t mean all creativity goes out the window. In fact, it can be the perfect opportunity to push yourself as a writer, expanding your technique and style. In Pathfinder, part of the challenge was dealing with such an enormous diversity of settings, beasts, races, and spells. Which ones would be the best for a particular scene? How can I present a world so full of potential mayhem in a cohesive manner? I had to tackle all these issues and more.
- Adding to Canon (Caveat: Sometimes.) – No tie-in world is ever fully explored or developed. There are always blank spaces on the map or elements of a culture or kingdom that remain untouched. In Forge of Ashes, I got to focus on dwarven society and the region of Five Kings Mountains, as well as a journey into the Darklands, highlighting plenty of monsters and people (like duergar, derro, and ropers) that hadn’t been center stage in other Pathfinder Tales novels. I even got to sketch out a map for the dwarven city of Taggoret, which will be included in the book. It’s awesome to know I’m able to bring in some unique elements to Golarion that might make their way into the play experience.
With all that in mind, writing Forge of Ashes was immense fun, to say the least. I love good sword-and-sorcery adventure, so that’s what I set out to write, adding in a few larger battles and lots of monsters along the way. Working with James Sutter, Paizo’s executive editor, I developed a number of plot pitches he reviewed and helped me hash out until we settled on the one we felt would work best. Paizo then has an in-depth novel and character outline process, so their team can approve all the main details and ensure everything fits within both the game lore as well as gameplay mechanics. Once all that finally got green-lit, it was time to sit down and draft this thing!
Now, I’m an outliner/plotter by nature, so by the time I started on the first chapter, the actual drafting process sped by with fewer speed bumps than I expected. Paizo’s methodology really empowered my own, and I’ve even been incorporating some of the extra steps they required with my original, ongoing projects.
But let me emphasize this for anyone who might believe tie-in fiction equates to “phoning it in” creatively. It’s work. Hard work. But it’s also a unique experience that can help you grow as a writer. However much I get to do tie-in projects moving forward, you can bet I’ll bring as much passion and polish to the story as I do with my own writing. It’s not a creative compromise. It’s not selling out.
It’s another side of the craft. Another side of the business.
And it’s definitely an adventure.
Now…onward and upward to the next one!