The Rigors of Writing Tie-ins

Over at Jeff Vandermeer's blog, authors Dan Abnett and Mark Charan Newton discuss the challenges of writing tie-ins vs non-franchise fiction. Here's an excerpt:

Mark Charan Newton: You see it frequently these days – a literary fiction star such as Jonathan Lethem wanting to write a comic strip for Omega the Unknown, or Jodi Piccoult writing a Wonder Woman series. There’s a sense of reverence and pedigree involved. It has cool factor. But those authors are writing for a franchise that is not creator-owned. It’s not their world; the characters are often not their own. But let’s go the other way. For an author to write tie-in fiction – that is, fiction connected to a franchise or character, that isn’t technically owned by the author – it is still treated as a gaucherie by the majority of genre fans. The books suffer by not getting proper review coverage, and sometimes they are not even considered as ‘real’ works. Why do you think tie-in fiction is treated as the second-class citizen of the genre world?

 […]Dan Abnett: There are any number of contributing factors, and many of them are inevitably contradictory. Let’s start with a basic assumption: if you write as a hired gun, you must be in it for the dosh. You don’t really care what you’re writing. Therefore (obviously), you’re just crapping it out, words per square inch. In other words, tie-in fiction MUST by the very nature of its manufacture, be poor, disposable and second-rate.
It’s possible that an awful lot of people think this. They may not even mean to think it. There’s also a possibility (actually, a very high probability) that an awful lot of people in what I’m happy to refer to as “my line of work” believe that’s what other people think.
I think it’s worth getting this out of the way right at the start: writers of tie-in fiction may, sometimes, involuntarily, feel slightly guilty. They may be, involuntarily defensive. They know what the perception can be, and it contaminates them slightly. Tie-in writers can be their own worst enemies.

[…]Mark: It’s interesting you mention the money as a perceived incentive, and you’re quite right. But I suppose without naming names, there have been writers who have been strapped for cash and wanted to do tie-in fiction because they thought it was easy money. Hang around at a convention bar and you’ll hear those stories. So, as an aside – you’ve written both original fiction and tie-in fiction, so which do you find is easier?

 Dan: I actually think it’s harder to write for franchises in many ways, as you’re constantly checking (or you damn well should be!) that you’re remaining true to the source, in terms of detail, fluff, character and style. It’s quite demanding to be so engaged, so ‘on’, permanently policing your actions within the boundaries of someone else’s property. In your own work, you only have to check with yourself about where the edges are. This labour is OF COURSE counter-balanced by the creative efforts involved in original invention – let me just say that before anyone has an indignant spasm.

2 thoughts on “The Rigors of Writing Tie-ins”

  1. The dichotomy runs to other media as well. When William Gibson and Stephen King wrote episodes of the X-Files, I don’t recall anyone shaking his or her head and announcing that either writer’s prose career was over. But if either scribe were to pen an X-Files tie-in novel . . . .

  2. Homer recited for the money. Shakespeare wrote history plays because the audience demanded them, writing for the money. Trollope wrote 250 words every 15 minutes, timing himself, writing 3,000 words each morning, writing for the money. Dickens was paid by the word, which is why he wrote long novels, he wanted the money. Almost every play ever staged was staged in the hopes of making money. Same with almost every movie ever made. The smart writers know that if they write quality stories, the audience will return for their next, and they’ll make more money. So the test is, I would argue, for all stories: is the quality meaningfully high? Is the story, at it’s core, about something real? If so, the writer, I believe, will earn a returning audience no matter what form the story takes.
    I really enjoyed, “Mr Monk and the Dirty Cop,” but then it explored the theme of identity and was more of a pure detective story, which, for me, is what I like. Not for a moment did I think about it as a “tie-in.” To a large degree it transcended the tv detective genre and stood on its own. And so I’m reading it for the second time!


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