4.27.2006

Harley Stroh:
Putting the Hack into Hack'n'Slash since 1974

In a recent post in his livejournal, Paul S. Kemp took the time to explain shared world fiction, noting that a recent sale was non-shared world.

At first I was amused; have we really come so far that readers don't recall when fantasy fiction wasn't associated with a brand? But then I took a look at my own resume, and - sure enough - everything I've sold in the past few years is tied to a franchise of some sort.

So? On one hand this makes sense. It's much easier for a new writer* to piggy back on a known commodity. Forgotten Realms sells, even if Harley doesn't. But what about life after FR/Blackmoor/d20? Lately I've been producing a lot of words, but I'm not sure I've been a writer.

Getting the chance to punish myself with the White Wolf novel kicked Harley's old dreams back to the fore. Back in the day I used to create. Nowadays I mostly piggy back. I'm excited to submit the novel, I'm excited to get back to some d20 design, but I'm also excited to start writing again.

A wise, wise friend claims her goal in life is to be a published fanstasy novelist.

Failing that?

She wants to be an unpublished fantasy novelist.

I could stand to learn that lesson.


*Meaning myself, not Paul. :D

15 Comments:

At 1:32 PM, Blogger saurus said...

There's nothing wrong with piggybacking however. I'd compare it to say, my job. Let's say my dream is to startup my own company. Great - I can give myself lots of stock and retire early. However, I currently don't have the capital (or is it capitol? i always forget) required for said dream, so until that day, I piggyback, by working for someone else.

or you can just chuck it all out and quote dinosaurcomics - a wizard just turned you into a whale - is this awesome? y/n

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Grimbones said...

Yes! All the shrimp you can eat!

(But yeah, you're right, Saurus. It's just that, in the face of contracts, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger goal. :) )

 
At 3:01 PM, Blogger Jw said...

All the Philly Steaks you can eat!

I know this is different, but I welcome the chance to be part of something larger. With my site, my graphics business and my music, I've stood alone for four years now. It's really hard to corral people into collaborative efforts, I've found (perhaps I don't yet have the clout). When I can make that happen, I am in heaven. When I did my zine, I loved seeing the submissions flow in. My current music project is massivly collaborative, and it's better than a lot of my other stuff because of it.

I suppose I see a lot of positives for "piggy-backing" with shared worlds and franchise standards... then again, I love parameters, too.

 
At 5:57 PM, Blogger ec said...

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At 6:00 PM, Blogger ec said...

Lately I've been producing a lot of words, but I'm not sure I've been a writer.

I think it is possible to write in a shared world, not just piggy-back. All settings, even those you create, impose certain constraits--interior logic, if nothing else.

That said, I always urge new writers to start writing your own stuff asap. Write in shared worlds, too, if you like--there ARE benefits, beyond that of brand identification, in being part of a joint effort--but the importance of writing creator-owned work cannot be overemphasized.

There are also disadvantages to writing in a shared world. (See "Pink daffodils," the recent post on ecwritingjournal.blogspot.com, for one such scenario). When you write for a shared world, you don't own your work or have final say on what happens to your characters. The publisher can decide at any time to kill off your characters or hire someone else to write about them. Other writers will hijack characters and story elements. Game designers will pave over parts of the setting. You never know when a change to the rules will turn the details (or even the plot premise) in your books into RPG anachronisms, which will then be dismissed for "not following the rules"--sometimes by some of the very people who CHANGED the rules and created the inconsistencies.

But as Sean recently observed, "It's their world; they can do anything they want. You knew that going in."

He's right, of course. There are many factors to weigh when you're deciding whether or not to write in a shared world: creative control, flexibility, industry perceptions, your ability to work and play well with others. Contracts vs on-spec work. An established setting--and the audience that comes with it--vs the very real possibility that a solitary book with an unfamiliar name will languish on the shelves. It's not a simple decision.

 
At 7:39 PM, Blogger Grimbones said...

EC,

Absolutely.

Forgive me if my post came off poorly. In no way did I intend to denigrate any other author. Any comments made apply only to my personal situation and process, not the situation or process of anyone else.

I suspect you already knew this, but it's good to be clear. :)

//H

 
At 7:51 PM, Blogger Paul S. Kemp said...

Harley,

Understand, too, that my point in identifying the Dragon story as "non-shared world" had nothing whatever to do with any kind of qualitative distinction. In fact, I think people who think that shared world writing is qualitatively different than non-shared world writing are mistaken. I was only trying to anticipate questions about the subject matter of the story and head them off (e.g., is it an FR story? Is Cale in it? etc.)

Paul

 
At 8:32 PM, Blogger ec said...

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At 8:34 PM, Blogger ec said...

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At 9:48 PM, Blogger Marcy said...

Having been at this for many, many years now, I'd take a work-for-hire novel contract over no novel contract any day.

And, hey, whaddaya know? I did! ;)

 
At 10:51 PM, Blogger ec said...

Uh-huh. There's that.

 
At 10:53 PM, Blogger ec said...

HS: Any comments made apply only to my personal situation and process, not the situation or process of anyone else.

I suspect you already knew this, but it's good to be clear. :)


Yep, I got that. :) The questions you raised are good and valid questions. It's important to pursue your dreams and write the sort of things you WANT to write.

PK: In fact, I think people who think that shared world writing is qualitatively different than non-shared world writing are mistaken.

Yeah, but they're also numerous. :\

Seriously now, I'd have to agree that specifying setting or lack thereof is a frequent necessity. This isn't unique to shared-world writers: people who have more than one original setting and/or sets of characters field the same sort of questions.

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger Paul S. Kemp said...

"Yeah, but they're also numerous. :\"

EC,

Quite true, alas.

 
At 9:51 AM, Blogger Grimbones said...

Paul,

Understood. The weakness or strength of a story rests solely on the author, not the genre.

Too bad, really. I'd love to find a genre that guarantees that my writing will be good. >:)

Maybe tech writing for McDonalds BigMac wrappers.

//H

 
At 5:04 PM, Blogger Kameron said...

Hey, what's the deal with dinging tech writers?!?!? :P ;)

 

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