PART III ERRATA & ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction (Part Two)

Is there such a thing as a perfect book? If there is, I haven’t read one, let alone written one. One of the things I’d hoped to accomplish with this blog was not just to promote the book but to supplement it with additional material. This wouldn’t be much of a blog about the writing and publishing process if I just let the printed book speak for itself, so here we go, a part or “step” at a time, digging in to correct mistakes, struggle over inconsistencies, patch in missing information, and resurrect edited text.

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction (Adams Media, 2010)

This is the last one of these “deleted scenes” posts. We’ve come to the end of the book! There was nothing cut from the story by R.A. Salvatore, which was added on very late in the project.

So, here we go . . .

Chapter 34: Embrace the Tie-in

Ah, the media tie-in, the redheaded stepchild of the publishing business, how I love you. And I really, really do. People who pooh-pooh the tie-in are my sworn foes. If you’re one of those snobby readers operating from an unsupported assumption that tie-in fiction is bad in some ill- or undefined way, all you’re accomplishing with that is to miss some great books. And as an aspiring author, deciding you’re somehow “above” writing them, you’re missing out on a potentially career-establishing opportunity.

The first couple paragraphs were trimmed because they came off as a little, um . . . strident?

I’ve seen rather insulting presumptions, accusing us of being glorified fan-fiction writers, and so on. On the other end of the spectrum there are people who take it all actually a bit too seriously, climbing into the text like a prospector examining his pan for the tiniest traces of gold, but in the case of these uber-fans, for the tiniest mistake in continuity. And no matter how insignificant it is to the overwhelming majority of readers, for that minority of readers it dooms the book, and that author, forever after.

If you’re on either side of this fence I’d ask you to please just take a deep breath and try to calm down. Nothing is ever always bad or always good, or never without the slightest error.

But that actually is how I feel. It can be taken too seriously, but in the end, better too seriously than not seriously at all.

This next paragraph was substantially reworked in the section on novelizations, because my editor thought it was too much of a personal anecdote, or something like that. Here it is, warts and all, as it was originally written. The novelization in question, of course, is Baldur’s Gate.

If you’re just starting your career and you’ve impressed an editor enough that he or she offers you a novelization, I would say go ahead and do it. I did, though at times I’ll admit I regret it. But really what I regret is not being an active enough advocate of my own knowledge. I trusted people who told me it was fine, though I suspected it wasn’t, and let myself be content with some lousy communication. That ended up with a novel with my name on it that wasn’t an accurate enough reflection of the game it was supposed to “novelize.” So, okay, do it, if you can, and if you really have a sincere appreciation for the source material, but demand the best information up front, and detailed reviews from the most knowledgeable sources as you go. Be hard on yourself, because believe me, if you aren’t, and get the slightest thing wrong, the fans of that game, movie, etc. will be a lot harder on you than you might imagine. I was actually threatened with physical violence, and I have one writer friend who had death threats against him that were troubling enough that the FBI eventually became involved. Novelizations can be fun, can be an interesting storytelling and writing exercise for new and established authors, but for goodness’s sake, please take them seriously.

Honestly, I could write a whole separate book on writing tie-in fiction.

Hmm . . . I should pitch that!

Chapter 35: Move on to Film and Television (If You Can)

I’m not sure if I have any more to add on this chapter. A few words and a line or two aside, it’s pretty much as written from the first draft. Breaking into Hollywood really is that hard, but like publishing, it really is not impossible. I was recently contacted by an agent in Hollywood that I hooked up with six years ago who said he was moving his office and came upon one of my books. He remembered the spec script of mine that he sent around back then but didn’t sell and thought the climate in Hollywood had changed in a way that would make that script more sell-able. You could have knocked me over with a feather on that one. The script currently making the rounds again, long after I had mentally written it off.

That’s a great example of something I don’t think I really touched on in the book and should have: There really is no expiration date on anything.

It may take literally years for you to sell your first book. And what can be frustrating for aspiring and veteran authors alike is that nothing ever moves nearly as fast as you’d like it to, in any business, really. It can take months for an editor to read your manuscript, weeks or even months more for him or her to sell it to the right people inside the publishing house. Contract negotiations can take weeks more, then the book might not be released for a year or two after that, and don’t even get me started on waiting for checks to arrive. It is a slow, slow process most of the time. If you’re not ready to let the system, whether it’s New York publishing or Hollywood movies, take its sweet time, you may find you’ve quit the game before the rest of the team has even made it out on the field.

Patience is essential.

Chapter 36: Join the Electronic Gaming Revolution

More than a year after first writing this chapter, I wish I could tell you that there’s been some massive paradigm shift in the video game business and writers are more valued and sought-after than they used to be. That still isn’t at all true. Like Hollywood, they’re certain than anyone and everyone can write a story, so why value someone who claims to have that skill? It’s a pretty sad state of affairs out there, but more and more I’m seeing increasingly vocal complaints from gamers in regards to the low quality of video game narratives, and there are a few studios out there who might be starting to get the message. Still, the video game business is and will be a great source of “day jobs” for aspiring authors. Go forth, my children, and make video game stories better.

Deleted Chapter: Design Role-playing Games

That’s how long I was running . . . they made me cut a whole chapter, and after some gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands, the chapter that was cut was the one on writing for table-top or “analog” RPGs. Even though it was a very short little chapter.

Here it is, then, in its entirety:

If video games are a growing business only just recently beginning to recognize good storytelling, role-playing games are a shrinking business that has always valued a story well-told. Indeed, the role-playing game, pioneered by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the mid-1970s, is the progenitor of the modern video game. Without it, there would be no HALO, much less World of Warcraft. And though its online progeny are soaking up some of its market share, the traditional pencil-and-paper RPG is alive and well, and hiring science fiction and fantasy writers in both staff and freelance positions.

For more on this topic, I went right to the source, Bill Slavicsek, R&D Director for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast who told me, “We are constantly looking for creative people with strong writing skills and a passion for fantasy.”

But that doesn’t mean just anyone. I don’t think you should try to write for video games if you don’t play video games, and the same holds true for RPG design. Though I could help you with the product support you need to write fiction in one of the D&D settings, you’ll need to have a detailed understanding of the rules to write game products. Some game products are particularly “crunchy,” meaning there’s more rule content—more math. These would be “core” books that players use to build their characters and resolve in-game situations like combat or feats of physical or mental prowess. Others can be less crunchy, more story oriented, like the various campaign settings, that can have very few rules at all, but are closer akin to travel guidebooks, describing the setting and what characters can expect to find there.

In either case, according to Slavicsek, “Writers need to bring imagination, passion, and excitement to the work, so that the game setting comes alive for the players.”

Since I first started at TSR in 1995 I’ve struggled in some ways with the dichotomy of a well-designed RPG product and well-written novel. A good game product is all about set-up, with the resolution coming in the actual game play experience, whereas a novelist has to tie up his book with a satisfying climax, so while my comrades across the hall are setting up loose ends, I’m trying them up. There have been a few instances where we’ve gotten on each others’ nerves, but at the end of the day we’re all in it together.

That, written while I was still working full time at Wizards of the Coast.

In the last year or so the analog RPG business has continued to get smaller. There are still opportunities, and gamers are still gaming, but the future is uncertain at best. For the record, that devastates me. What D&D has meant to me over the past 32 years, I’ll need a whole other blog just to begin to convey. . . .

And that gets us to “Hugo Mann’s Perfect Soul,” and the end of the book. I did have appendices, which included some exercises that are seeing life here as we go along, and I had planned on a list of resources, but this blog is presenting those as I go, to, and will continue to do that.

I don’t want to write some kind of sappy summation of the experience of writing the book. Maybe that’ll be another blog post. It might be a good subject for the one-year anniversary of the book’s release, which is coming up in about three months.

But though these regular errata posts are all done, believe me, there’s always more to say.

See you next Tuesday.


—Philip Athans




About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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One Response to PART III ERRATA & ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction (Part Two)

  1. lorwynd says:

    I, too, am saddened by the decline in classic, pencil and paper D&D. I’ve been playing it since I was in 7th grade and the current group I play with has been together for nearly fifteen years. I’m also love to read, mostly Fantasy, some Sci-Fi and horror, followed by a little self-improvement and auto/biographies. In the last couple years, I’ve gotten more serious about trying to get published. I have been reading books on writing by some of my favorite authors as well as books on various writing topics. Fantasy and Sci-Fi being what I’m drawn to, I picked up “The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction” and found it to be the best book on the topic I’ve found. There is some great advice in it, especially when the source is both a writer and an editor.

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