Jim C. Hines: Companion Novels Are Clucking Poetry, Man!

Jim Hines is a dude who knows his way around funny, awesome fantasy — and now he brings his talent to the Fable franchise. Jim wanted to write a post about writing tie-in fiction, how could I say no? Frankly, Jim could say he wants to write about plaid sweaters, vintage recliners, or even chickens, and I’d let him. … wait, did I say chickens? Motherclucker.

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A year or two back, my agent emailed to ask if I’d be interested in writing the official companion novel for the Fable Legends video game. The Fable franchise is fantasy with a good dose of quirky humor. Or “humour,” since the company (Lionhead) is based in the U.K. I said yes, and thus began what would come to be known as Fable: Blood of Heroes. And you know what?

It’s clucking poetry, man!

(Side note: Since both the Fable Legends video game and my tie-in are YA friendly, any profanity in this blog post has been automatically replaced by chicken-related terms.)

“Poetic” isn’t a word oft applied to tie-in works, but I think it applies. Bear with me here. Almost half a lifetime ago, I took a poetry course in graduate school. I learned several things that semester, one of which was that I’m pretty flocking bad at writing poetry. But it forced me to write in a different format with different constraints. I learning to tighten my writing, to cut away every extraneous word, and to use language in different ways. (That forced economy of language also gave me the foundation for some mad Twitter skills.)

That class made me think within a differently shaped box. Everyone talks about thinking outside the box. Outside of the box, you’ve got infinite space. You can write anything. You have total freedom, complete with Braveheart-style face paint and authorial battle cry! Sometimes that freedom is overwhelming. Sometimes you find yourself forging new paths. Sometimes you start to realize you’re trodding some of the same paths over and over again in your work.

Along comes a specific poetic structure or format. Suddenly, you’re forced to work within new constraints. To find new ways of fitting words together to evoke emotions and create images and tell stories.

Writing a companion novel pushed me in the same ways, with the added bonus of not having to listen to my professor tell stories about smoking pot with other poets.

With Blood of Heroes, I had the freedom to create my own story, but I needed to include eight predefined Heroes from the game. I had to write a book that would be accessible to new readers and at the same time familiar to those who’d played Fable before and were playing Fable Legends. I was writing in the world of Albion, a world other people had already mapped out and created and explored.

You might think having someone else do all that worldbuilding makes the book easier to write, and in some ways, that’s true. Lionhead’s maps are certainly prettier than anything I ever scrawled out for my own books. But it was also limiting.

You’re sitting there, plotting out your story, and your characters have to get from point A to point B. If you’re inventing your own world, you can mess with the map however you need to make that work. In my case, I discovered that given the problems I’d already dumped on the characters, you couldn’t get there from here. I sat back, glared at the map, and said something along the lines of, “Molting feathers!”

As annoying as that was, it forced me to be more creative, and to find a solution I might not have come up with in my own “original” work. The same thing happened with the characters. The work Lionhead had done developing the game pushed me to write about different kinds of characters, people (and non-people) I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.

I understand Mister Wendig has also done a minor tie-in project of his own recently, so I’m sure he’ll agree with me about everything I’ve said here. Tie-in work doesn’t always get a lot of respect, but in this case, I found it to be not only fun to write, but also a way of pushing my own abilities and growing as a writer.

If I’ve done my job right, the end result should be a lot of fun for everyone. Fable fans will learn more about Albion and (hopefully) appreciate some insight into the new game. Readers who’ve never played a game in their life should enjoy a rather madcap adventure about larger-than-life Heroes fighting a unique team of villains. There’s action and comedy and flirting and fighting and a dead king who still won’t shut up, and much more.

I hope you’ll check it out. And to my fellow writers, if you get the chance to work with a good company and publisher on a tie-in project, I highly recommend it.

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Jim C. Hines made his professional debut in 1998 with “Blade of the Bunny,” an award-winning story that appeared in Writers of the Future XV. Since then, his short fiction has been featured in more than fifty magazines and anthologies. He’s written ten books, including Libriomancer, The Stepsister Scheme, and the humorous Goblin Quest series. He promises that no chickens were harmed in the making of this book.

Fable: Blood of Heroes comes out on August 4. You can read the first few chapters on the publisher’s website.

Jim C. Hines: Website | Twitter

Fable: Blood of Heroes: Indiebound | Amazon | B&N