Writing Excuses 7.43: Tie-in Fantasy Fiction with James L Sutter

James L Sutter  joins us before a live audience at GenCon Indy for a discussion of tie-in fiction. James is a writer and editor, and is one of the co-creators of the Pathfinder system. He is the author of Pathfinder Tales: Death’s Heretic and is the editor in charge of all of Paizo’s Pathfinder fiction.

James leads by telling us that if you want to write for Pathfinder, the first thing you need to do is write something for somebody else. As the editor of that division at Paizo, he’s the gatekeeper, and that’s the first hurdle you need to clear. He also talks to us about what he’s looking for in an author.

We talk at length about the Pathfinder line, its genesis, and James’s mission with Paizo regarding the tie-in fiction. He tells us about the things that turn him off in a submitted manuscript, and what sorts of work he does with his writers to help make the tie-in fiction actually, you know, tie in.


Write a story in which all the characters are simultaneously the good guy AND the bad guy.

Railsea, by China Mieville, narrated by Jonathan Crowley

9 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.43: Tie-in Fantasy Fiction with James L Sutter”

  1. Based on the point James made about basic cleanup, an interesting free tool I’ve used and like is smart edit. It will point out commonly screwed up words (effect/affect, than/then, etc), cliches, and those sorts of things to help you clean up those bits of silliness. It isn’t the be all end all, but can help spot foolish mistakes.

  2. Anyone who recommends China Mieville, is okay by me – at last, a new kind of fantasy, that isn’t just Tolkein by another name.

    Really interesting podcast. I am one of those that doesn’t read tie-in fiction, as I think it’s usually just churned out to make money – all plot and no craft. But I may try a Pathfinder novel.

  3. This is a bit off topic, but thinking about tie-ins and world building got me thinking of maid and butler dialogue and info dumping.

    Is it still maid and butler dialogue if one character is asking another character about something that they don’t know about (like a supernatural item or world etc), and the other answers each of the questions in paragraphs explaining it?… or maybe its info dumping? Is it acceptable? Would it be better if the characters were doing something during the Q&A?

    Again, I know its off topic a little, but some insight would be greatly appreciated.


  4. @Sean, a character that legitimately doesn’t know something and asks and then the explanation is given is acceptable if done right. You correctly pointed out potential pitfalls of the method, overlong info dumps, etc. It should be handled with care.

    Having the characters doing something while explaining can help. Try to give the information in a way that shows instead of tells and try to accomplish multiple things with the same scene and dialog.

    Maybe the explanation of how the shareholder’s meeting played out also shows how Maggie feels responsible for Uncle Eddie’s alcoholism and kick starts Joey’s love for Maggie & his efforts to save her family widget factory.

    You could also provide pieces of the explanation in several places so when combined, give the reader the whole picture you want them to have without forcing them to swallow it in one large info dump.

  5. @Talmage

    I’m starting to see how tricky it gets when somebody needs to explain (in detail) how something from another world works. But I think your comment has gotten me thinking in the right direction. Thanks!

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