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

Matt Forbeck | 3 Jun 2010 21:00
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With many tie-in novels, the writer has a great deal of latitude. I've written over a dozen tie-in novels for four different publishers, and every time it's been different.

For my first series, I created the "Knights of the Silver Dragon" series for Wizards of the Coast. Steve Winter asked me to pitch him ideas for a young-adult fantasy series, the only stipulation of which was that it had to be set in an original world based on Dungeons & Dragons. I created everything for the series except for the rules behind how magic worked. The only way I could have had more freedom with the books would have been if I'd come up with them without prompting and sold them to a different publisher.

On the other end of the spectrum, I wrote a novelization of the Mutant Chronicles film, which was based on a tabletop roleplaying game I used to write and edit for back in the early 1990s. With that, I received a script with much of the work already done for me. However, because I knew the property so well, the people who owned it encouraged me to expand upon the storyline and tie it as strongly as I could back to the original setting that had inspired what was seen in the movie. Something like half of the material in the book didn't show up in the film at all.

On beyond that, you can find Max Collins's work on the novelization of the Road to Perdition film, which was in turn based on his own graphic novel. Due to contractual terms, Max wasn't allowed to add a single line of dialogue to the film's story, even though he'd come up with the whole thing in the first place.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Max later established the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW.org) with Lee Goldberg. The intent of the organization is to talk openly about the creation of tie-in novels and promote their acceptance. To that end, Max and Lee established an active e-mail list filled with tie-in writers and set up the Scribe Awards for tie-in books. Since most awards refuse to even consider tie-in books of any kind, this was a big step forward.

Despite horror stories like Max's, working in an established world is usually fun. It's like being told you can go take the shiniest toys down from the shelf and do whatever you like with them. You just have to take care you don't do anything to damage them and be sure to put them back when you're done, which seems fair.

The tradeoff with tie-ins is that the writer doesn't own those stories and doesn't get to control what happens to them after they leave his hands. Those toys belong to someone else, after all. In exchange for giving all that up, the writer receives a decent paycheck and - this is important - has a guaranteed sale before he starts writing.

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