Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Comment on Handling Intellectual Property part iii


Depending on whose Intellectual Property I’m working with, some of the most fun I can have as a writer of tie-in fiction involves filling the gaps.

I alluded to this in part ii of this short series of blogs, and I’m going to talk about it a bit more here.

The husband is a master of filling the gaps, and he does it admirably with the Black Library  and, in particular, with his work in the Warhammer 40K universe.

Just look at that word ‘universe’. Go back to first principles and remember that a universe is a bloody big place, and there must be a lot of little corners of it that are unmapped, uncharted, have no known history, and that no one knows a damned thing about. Start there and it’s possible for a writer to fill his own toy box with a large family of toys, essentially of his own manufacture. There’s a damned good reason why there’s a corner of the Warhammer 40K universe that is now referred to as the Daniverse.

It’s a pretty amazing place, too, and it’s a place where I’ve been allowed to play, and fill in my own gaps.

A couple of years ago, Dan and the guys in the Black Library office decided it would be fun to do a book of short stories revolving around Gaunt’s Ghosts and the Daniverse. Dan invited some of us writers to choose our favourite elements and weave our own tales. We didn’t write about Gaunt or the Ghosts. We didn’t just up-end the toy box and run riot, but that didn’t stop us having a lot of fun.

When the husband asked me if I’d like to do a story, I wanted to do something new, and I’d always been fascinated by Gereon and the idea of resistance in the face of occupation, rather than full-on, all-out war. I’d always wondered how that might work in the 40K setting. I also liked the idea that it hadn’t been done before, that it was virgin territory. That’s what I like to do; I like to come at the thing sideways. I like to take that .001 percent of the 40K universe that isn’t, at least directly, involved in war, and stick that under my microscope.

Just for fun, I’m going to reconstruct my thinking for ‘Cell’ right here. 

I’ve always thought that the Sabbat Worlds stories are analogous with events of the World Wars, so that was my starting point for ‘Cell’. My analogue was the French and Dutch resistance during the Second World War. So far, so good. I decided on small groups, or cells of resistors with limited resources, low levels of trust, and difficulty in communicating. Back to 40K to pick a world to be occupied. It made sense that it should be an agri-world, because that’d be useful to the enemy.

So, an agri-world, but one that seems SF in some way, that’s different, other. Again, I like real world analogues, and I live in Kent, so hop farming came easily to mind, and adapting hop-pickers stilts suddenly made my agri-workers unique. 

What to call my characters? A lot of writers struggle with names, and I know this for a fact, because, as a reader, I struggle with a lot of the choices writers make when it comes to names. I like to choose families of names, for consistency throughout a story. My analogue was the French resistance, and, as it happens, Abnett is a Huguenot name, so I found a source for Huguenot names, chose some, adapted the spellings, and built a list. Simple.

I had some of the key elements of my story that worked with 40K, which dove-tailed with what I already knew about the Daniverse and about the tone and feel of the intellectual property. I wasn’t breaking anything, IP-wise, and all of those elements helped to build a convincing whole, but didn’t, strictly speaking, rely on an exact, specific knowledge of anything that might appear in a 40K codex. 

‘Cell’ couldn’t have been anything but a 40K story, in fact, it couldn’t have been anything but a Daniverse story, because it was tailor-made  to slot very neatly into a very specific niche. 

On the other hand, another writer might write a story filled with lasguns and Space Marines and Imperial Guard and Bolt Pistols and Leman Russ tanks, and it still feel very generic, and it still feel as if the weapons and the brand of space warrior and foot soldier and tank could be changed, and the story could belong in any generic universe.

Writing for any intellectual property is a skill, it is a discipline and it does require research, but sometimes it’s all about a writer’s gut and his heart and his will. Sometimes it’s about throwing caution to the wind, it’s about being unapologetic, and it’s about being unthreatened by the response of the critic and unembarrassed about just what goes into the thinking process. Often, that’s when the writing really works.

15 comments:

  1. "The Daniverse is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to the Daniverse."

    One of the tricky things about starting in tie-in fiction would be swallowing the cold hard truth that there are some toys you are not allowed to play with. There is a good reason you are not allowed to play with these toys. Even the big kids who have been playing in the sandbox for a longer period of time than you are not allowed to play with these toys.

    An example would be those enigmatic (for a reason, see above) 'lost Primarchs' that people know are left alone but still cannot resist asking about. It might be frustrating. You might have a really, really cool idea for one of their names. But those are mint-condition left in the box toys that Rick Priestely is holding onto for safe-keeping. No touching.

    It might be frustrating, but if you can get over it then you are able to realise you have the rest of the sandbox to play with. Then when you have created your own cool little collection of toys, you realise you never really wanted to play with the forbidden toys in the first place.

    At least that is how I imagine it to be. I'm not there yet, but I am committed to sending in the yearly 1000 word sample to see if Nick Kyme or Laurie Goulding like what they see.

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