Writing Excuses 5.25: Writing in Other People’s Universes

Kevin J. Anderson joins us for a discussion of writing in other people’s universes. After the opening shots (and an obligatory Jar-Jar joke), we tackle the question “how do you get to write a Star Wars book?”

Our discussion ranges from the general to the practical, and presses the Fanfic hotbutton more than once. We discuss Kevin’s career with numerous licensed properties, and Brandon’s experience with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Hidden Empire: The Saga of the Seven Suns, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by George Guidall

Writing Prompt: A group of aliens come to a writing conference to learn to write stories that humans will want to read.

That Noise In The Background: The hotel staff was vacuuming the room behind us.

Best Metaphor Ever, Courtesy of Kevin J. Anderson: As authors in other creators’ universes we are Lando Calrissian borrowing the Millenium Falcon and promising to return it to Han Solo without a scratch.

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32 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.25: Writing in Other People’s Universes”

  1. Dear Writing excuses team,

    You may appriciate this podcast called “How to Read Tolkien and Why.” ( http://www.tolkienprofessor.com/lectures/intro.html) It is a professores explication on the underlying belifes and literary tastes that informed Tolkien’s works and why there is so much depth to LOTR. One point that comes up is his concpet of writing as an act of sub-creation. Since only God can create, what we do is adapt what already exisit and–atleast in Tolkiens case–reflect features we may ignor because they are so common. The view is a bit more nuanced and facinating than I can convey. I hope you enjoy.


  2. Great episode, as usual. :)

    Could you guys do an episode about description sometime? How does a writer know if they’re overdoing it or underdoing it?

  3. True story, at the age of ten I decided I wanted to write a Stars Wars novel — I was devouring the supplemental novels. I sent a letter to… I think Harper Collins, or whatever publisher was on the spine of one of the books, by picking the address out of the inside cover. I asked what I would have to do to write a Star Wars novel. I don’t remember what else I asked. I promptly forgot about it, and went to my grandmother’s for the summer.

    Several months later my mother calls to tell me I received a reply. I was thanked for my question and told that the letter-writer didn’t know what I needed to do. They also proceeded to drag a red pen over my letter. A lot. I was delighted.

    Unfortunately I didn’t keep the letter, but I should’ve. I should’ve framed that.

    Enjoyable podcast! :D

  4. Well, this is sad. I found this podcast last winter and since then have been listening from the start in chunks here and there when I have some time to burn. Now I’m all caught up, which means from here on out I can only listen to them as fast as you make them.

    Anyway, just want to say that I love the show and hope you keep up the good work!

  5. I’ve been working my way through the Saga of Seven Suns audiobooks. It’s quite excellent.
    Excellent enough, in fact, that it’s been keeping me away from my own writing (sadly, I’ve found I can’t listen and write at the same time without my characters turning into Kevin’s characters)

  6. A lot of fair points were made in this episode. And, of course, writing in someone else’s universe is not as rare a phenomenon as it first appears to be. It’s practically mandatory in TV writing, but even among novelists it’s not all that rare.

    When you include such things as collaborations, ghostwriting (where you’re not only writing in someone else’s universe but writing someone else’s story), and retellings of classic stories (Wicked, or Peter and the Starcatchers for instance) it becomes not so far fetched to believe that any aspiring author may find himself in such a situation somewhere in his future career.

    A few more podcast episodes could be devoted to this subject, I think, as the conversation has not yet been exhausted.

  7. @ Jared, I have a solution for you. Just start at the beginning again. They are, each and every podcast, worth listening to more than once.

  8. I’d like to hear your insights into how to foreshadow well. You’ve talked about its importance, but I’m wondering how to do it well.

  9. I enjoyed the podcast, as usual, but I noticed that you actually didn’t answer the question “How do I get to write a “Star Trek” (or whatever) novel?” much beyond Kevin’s first assertion that you have to become a professional writer first. Assuming that we have done that, and we really want to write a Star Trek novel — what then? You gave of great advice on how to write in someone else’s world — but there seems to be a big middle chunk left out there. Publish your own book and then …. this is how you write in the the other universe once you’re there.

  10. @Alex

    I think the point was that they’ll come looking for you, and if you go looking for them you’ll only be considered at all if you’re already published.

    I wonder if it’s easier to use real people in your own original tales, and then get their approval to publish the work based on them. I’d like to turn “young Brandon” into a Tour de France champion in a sprocket-punk novella.

  11. I’ve listened to the podcast multiple times over. Lately I’ve been listening to them before my latenight writing sessions. One of my favorites is still the bit about three act structures: 1) put your protagonist up in a tree 2) throw rocks at him 3) get him down. That mixed with the other bit about character quirks, like what exactly makes him such a good tree climber in the first place. Or not. Lots of great stuff here, makes me wish I was a Mormon living in Utah.

  12. @Duke

    It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

    Or so I hear. It has never worked that way for me. :)

  13. It’s so nice to see writers who admit they are also fans. And who *gasp* even speak positively of fanfiction! (Stephen Brust, at a con panel, said that anyone who is writing a sequel to his own work is writing fanfiction, because he’s just like the fans – “This is so cool! I want more!”)

  14. A little bit off topic but I’ve been trying to download older episodes of Writing Excuses. I do have a vauge memory that I’ve been able to do this before but it doesnt seem to work anymore. The download button only opens up the episode in a new window and wont acctual download the episode. Did they remove this function?

  15. Hey, does anyone know of any good short stories I can find online? My roommate needs some for a class. I don’t mean to be off subject, but looking for stores for her made me realize how few short stories I have read. Anyone know any that aren’t to depressing?

  16. @ CM – There are two free short stories on Brandon’s website, but if you’re looking for an online magazine than check out Orson Scott Cards’ Intergalactic Medicine Show.

  17. At around 6:53 into the podcast it sounds like there are children whispering. Is that also the cleaning staff?

  18. @ CM

    If you search for Abigail Parry, University of London, one of the first hits should be a trio of (very) short stories that both my creative writing teacher and I call good.

  19. @Patrik — under Firefox, check Tools->options->applications. I find that programs and updates sometimes “grab” various formats, which means they open in a window. I prefer “ask every time”. Also check tools->addins->plugins — I have to disable quicktime, because it insists on grabbing formats, even if I change it to ask every time. Other browsers probably have similar functions.

  20. Strange thing … Here in Germany, many writers start with books written in someone else’s universe (like Shadowrun novels, or novels for other roleplaying games) and publish their own books afterwards. I always assumed it was the same way around in the US.

  21. I always enjoy listening to these podcasts. So thank you! However…..who of what were the whispering voices ? (somewhere between the 6 and 7 minutes)

    Regards from Holland!

  22. Got to this a little late, but it was interesting, although it catered to mid-career writers, methinks.

    I wonder why you guys didn’t touch on writing pastiche? The difference between pastiche and fanfic and licensed works is interesting, especially when pastiche works as a kind of reflection/twist on a set of books and their tropes, as in “It’s Watership Down with zombies!”

  23. What I’m wondering: how can you get a fan fiction published without infringing the rights of the copyright holder? Do the publishers request permission once the material is submitted? How do you find a publishing company who will take your fan fiction? Does it depend on the cannon it’s taken from? Do any publishing companies accept fan fiction?

    This podcast, in general, has inspired me to write a fan fiction, especially with this advice coming from published authors. It’s such outstanding reinforcement I never thought I’d hear. I’m sick of people saying that writing a fan fiction is bad in general, though I keep convincing myself that it’s the author who determines whether fan fiction is good or not. I also have my own original work in-progress that I plan on publishing, so bonus for me.

    Again, it was very refreshing to hear this.

  24. @Jessica: Fundamentally, your question is “can I get paid for writing fan-fic?”

    I don’t want to quash your enthusiasm, but I do want you to be cautious.

    The answer depends on the universe in which you’re writing, and how those rights are being managed by the owners. It also depends heavily on your own track-record as a writer. Fan-fic is wonderful practice. It prepares you to structure your writing in your own original settings. Fan-fic manuscripts themselves are not, however, wonderful investments in their own right. You’re very, very unlikely to make money with the fan-fic itself.

    The important thing, however, is to KEEP WRITING. If fan-fic is what interests you, write it. But the hurdles standing between a new author and a license to write in the Star Wars (or Full Metal Alchemist, or Buffy The Vampire Slayer, etc) universe are steep ones.

    I don’t advise sending unsolicited fan-fic manuscripts to publishers. They’ll be rejected out of hand.

    Most authors who write in other people’s universes do so because they were invited to, and the invitations came about because they were already writing successfully in their own universes. As you nurture your career as an original author you’ll meet the people who own, manage, edit, or are otherwise involved in some of your favorite properties, and the opportunity will arise to ask whether you can play on their playground.

  25. Greetings! As a reader rather than a listener would it be possible to have transcripts of these podcasts? I know they are very popular but some of us think best when looking at the written word.

    Ok, some of us may also be old fuddy duddies but surely discussions about writing should have some in there somewhere?

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