Days of High Adventure: The Art of Writing Tie-In Fiction

Matt Forbeck | 3 Jun 2010 21:00
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If you stumble into the fantasy and science-fiction section of any well-stocked bookstore these days, you'll notice right away that there's a section devoted entirely to tie-in novels, most of which are based on games. As I mentioned the last time around, there's a long-standing confluence of games and fiction that goes all the way back to H. G. Wells's publication of Little Wars back in 1913. That tradition is stronger than ever today.

In most bookstores, the tie-in fiction has a section of its own appended to the end of the creator-owned books in the same genre. This is both physically and metaphorically a ghetto for these novels.

The ostensible reason for keeping tie-ins apart from the others books is that it makes it easier for readers to find them, and there's some truth to that. Most people who read tie-in fiction care less about the name of the author on the spine than they do about the trademark that appears above it. If you want to read Warhammer novels, for example, it's convenient to have them all in one place. That way you don't have to go hunting for William King and Dan Abnett among all the other books, and you have a better chance of stumbling across the works of Mike Lee or Nathan Long, since they're all right there in a single spot.

Of course, the other reason is that many fans of science-fiction and fantasy don't want the tie-in books in their way when they're looking for something to read. They want to grab the latest original creations from Karen Traviss or Tobias Buckell, and they don't want to trip over Dragonlance or World of Warcraft books as they browse. They forget, of course, that Karen has written numerous Star Wars and Gears of War novels and that Tobias has an excellent Halo novel under his belt too.

The fact is that tie-in genre novels generally sell better than original genre novels. There's a reason why Locus magazine separates out the tie-ins from the originals for its bestseller lists. Otherwise, the tie-ins would often nudge all but of a few of the originals right off the list.

Some hardcore fans of genre fiction wrinkle their noses at tie-in novels. To them, the stench of commercialism about tie-in books prevents them from consideration as art. They prefer books that spring entirely from the brow of their authors, and some of them even think of people who write books set in a corporate-owned universe as cheaters. After all, tie-in writers don't have to do all the work of original authors, right? When someone supplies you all the characters, plots, settings, and backstory, a tie-in novel is just a step or two above hanging a paint-by-numbers bit of art on the wall.

Right?

(I'll bet you see this coming.) Wrong.

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