The Tie-Ins that Bind – Shared Worlds and Beyond
by David Wilson
Although the first novel I sold was This is My Blood, the first of my books ever to be published was a tie-in novel. Chrysalis, #12 in the Star Trek Voyager series. Let me tell you, I was thrilled to get that gig, and I'm still proud to be included in the long line of folks associated with that wonderful, wonderful franchise. Since this was early in my career, I have to say that I believe the experience was formative in many ways.
Tie-in novels are not like your own. You get to come up with the plot. You get to write the words. You don’t' get the final say on either of those things, and there are rules. They differ from project to project and franchise to franchise, but in general: You can't kill any of the main characters. You can't do anything that would permanently affect the overall storyline. You can introduce your own characters but you can't create one that becomes a recurring or franchise character.
None of this may seem very limiting, but look at it like this. Writing your own novel gives you the freedom to handle all the elements, characters, etc. exactly as you imagine them. Writing in someone else's world is more structured. It's like the difference between writing a research paper, or an article for a newspaper. You have to be able to come up with something new, interesting, and exciting, and do it within the parameters the series allows.
There are also levels of acceptance that don't exist with standard novels. When I wrote my Star Trek novel, and again when I wrote Brimstone – a Stargate Atlantis novel with Patricia Lee Macomber, it was done in stages. First you pitch your idea. The editor has to work it over and approve it. Then the idea is sent on to the powers that be – for Stargate it's MGM, for Star Trek it was Paramount. You wait for approval from above, and any comments or warnings they might come back with, and then you write. The same process repeats when you turn in your manuscript. Your editor will probably ask for changes – you'll get copy-edits, etc. Then, when that level is passed, the book moves on up to the franchise people, where it can sit for a very long time. They will either accept, reject, or ask for changes. For the most part, this is non-negotiable. It's work for hire, and when all is said and done, they are going to own your book in ways that standard publishers would not.
It can be a lot of fun. I recommend that if people write in a franchise universe, they only do so if they are truly fans, and truly 'jacked in' to the world, characters, concepts, etc. When I wrote my Voyager novel, I was so immersed in the show I could hear the voices of the actors in my head. It really made it easy to write character interactions, I knew what to expect.
In the end, though, writing tie-in books left me feeling drained and a bit empty. Particularly my White Wolf World of Darkness novels. What this led to was finding my own outlets.
Currently I write for three different shared world series. The Space Opera series "Tales of the Scattered Earth," the X-Files meets Fringe series "O.C.L.T.," and my own supernatural investigator / mage / book collector series The DeChance Chronicles. The first two I created as concepts with Aaron Rosenberg and Steven Savile, both of whom have written tons of tie-in work. We wanted the magic of the shared world without the rules, so we created our own worlds. We have invited in some other authors, but our rules are simple and non-restrictive, and things are going very well.
In my most recent novel, just out in hardcover, trade paperback, audiobook and eBook, Nevermore, A Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe, I began to tie all of these various worlds I helped create into one huge fiction. Nevermore ties in to the O.C.L.T. series and also into The DeChance Chronicles, but is also a very self-sufficient, stand-alone novel. As in tie-in work, series work has its limitations but I'm finding that by expanding the boundaries and creating – or possibly discovering – commonalities and links between all these works – the boundaries are lifted. It makes me smile to think a reader of one of my older books, like Darkness Falling could read Nevermore and suddenly find themselves reading a passage – or a name – that is familiar. Stephen King has done this, using his Dark Tower novels to bind almost all of his work into a single, huge, diverse universe that is al his own.
In the end, the decision on the tie-in work versus original is a personal one. Some people love to return again and again to familiar settings and beloved characters. Others bore easily, or wither under the restrictions. You have weigh the pros and cons, and write what works best for you. Sometimes the decision is financial, or combined with a professional goal – which is great. The important thing is that when you write what you love, what you need to write, you are more productive, and you are a lot more likely to be happy. Make sure before you sign on to write for a series that it will make you happy, and that you are ready for the road of delays and compromises that road will entail.
-David Niall Wilson
@David_N_Wilson on Twitter
David is also the author of 'Killer Green':
Quentin Tarantino meets Smokey & The Bandit in this noir, science-fiction thriller. Sometimes, people just need killing. When Sam West wanders into the Sunny-Side-Up Diner for the last time, hoping for a last slice of Mort's world-class pie, and one last look at a waitress named Delilah, he has no idea he's about to become the instrument of a great, kharmic cleansing. The only thing crazier than the seemingly inevitable trail of bodies following Sam and Delilah south is the fact that - as State Police and local sheriffs begin to investigate - they find no evidence. Nothing. And the missing bodies are just the start, as an unlikely band of companions are drawn together in a scientific experiment more in line with the TV Series Fringe than anything in reality, with the threat of alien probes, local law enforcement, and rednecks around every corner.
Killer Green began life as a joking conversation on Twitter. It became a phenomenon - was written into a screenpaly - shared on the Internet, optioned by a production company, and continues it's social media-born roll toward the Mexican border.
It's ecologically relevant. It's good for the environment. It's a novel you will not forget, that will leave you laughing and hold your attention to the last word.
Wouldn't you rather be green?