Last weekend I attended GenCon with my 12yo son (his first time at GenCon – w00t). Despite his youthful enthusiasm for all things merchandise, he humored me and sat in on a panel session for a full hour. Thanks, bud!
"Chummers and ‘Mechs and Writing for Catalyst" was the panel we attended. It was led by Hugo-nominated author John Helfers and the editor of Catalyst Game Lab’s long fiction. He was joined by an esteemed panel of game and fiction writers from Catalyst.
The panel covered what they are working on for the Shadowrun and Battletech lines and offered advice for authors that want to write for these games.
Meet your deadlines
Meet your deadlines, meet your deadlines, meet your deadlines. This statement was the leading comment by the panel. Your deadlines affect product schedules and could mean your fiction will be cut (and by association, so will you). Be on time: meet your deadlines.
Read good fiction
Reading good fiction lets you see what good writing looks like and what mistakes to avoid.
Know the universe
Creating fiction in a known universe can be tricky. Consistency is important because the readers expect the story universe to operate in certain ways. This applies both to the tone and style of writing and the history and technology of the universe. Changing fundamental technologies or timelines won’t fly with the editors.
Writing for a game is not a hobby
While RPGs are a hobby for most people, writing for the RPGs is not. It is a career and should be handled as such. Be professional, and remember: meet your deadlines.
You are writing in a shared world
Because Battletech and Shadowrun are shared game universes, your need to tread lightly there. If an editor requests changes to a character or plot point, be flexible. Editors know the facts better than you. They also know where the product lines are headed. One writer’s first story went through 9 edits before publishing, so be prepared.
Find the little details and extrapolate
It may be tempting to write on the bleeding edge of the universe. When you first get started, find somewhere off the beaten path to write. The primary characters of the universe have already been plotted for new products. There are many "throw-away" statements in source books that can make a great starting point for your story. Extrapolate those little details into something interesting. Readers of Battletech and Shadowrun fiction love to see the lives of everyday people in the universes they love.
Shadowrun covers a 60-year time span and Battletech covers a millennium. This can feel overwhelming to those less familiar with the history, but authors should be encouraged by this statement: RPG material is written in a way to help tell stories. Gaming is a story-telling activity just like writing.
Each Catalyst universe has been developed for years and each has developed its own clichés. An example given was Johnsons (business people) double-crossing the runners they hired in Shadowrun. Learning what is considered cliché and writing outside of that give you a better chance of success.
(Note: I would have liked for the panel to expound on what things were considered clichés in each universe, but time prevented them from doing so.)
BattleCorps is the online fiction site for Battletech. At this point they are desperate for fiction to meet their desired quotas. This is good news for those who want to break into Battletech fiction.
For most pieces of fiction used by Catalyst there is a word length requirement. Authors should write in the 5- to 10-thousand word range. Also know that some word limits are very strict. Even a dozen words over and it will be returned for editing.
I’d like to thank author Jean Rabe, who I understand coordinates the writer’s symposium that takes place at GenCon. I only wish I had been able to attend more sessions.