Rapid Geek Onboarding

Black Iron Legacy #3 is finished, in so much as a book can be finished six months ahead of publication (still to come: cover, copy-edits, proofing and the like). I’m catching up on other projects, pitching new ideas, signing up for stretch goals, and doing some more writing for Black Library. My first story for them, Castle of the Exile, came out in Inferno #5.

It was my first work in the 40k setting, so some more tips on getting up to speed with big licensed properties. 

When you get hired to work on such a property, the publisher provides you with a bunch of background reading. Sometimes, it’ll be a huge pile of stuff to read (I recall doing a tiny bit of writing for one RPG line, and getting 20+ books to read first); sometimes, it’ll be a sketchy overview document about the current project without a lot of information about the wider setting. 

Stay Current

Geek culture’s defined by our obsessions, but if you’re working in the field, it’s useful to keep an eye on other universes. There’s so much nerdery out there that it’s impossible to consume it all, but it’s not that hard to keep tabs on major developments and debates. Follow people on twitter, skim wikipedia articles, read reviews – you don’t need an in-depth knowledge of a setting, but staying vaguely aware of what’s going on in, say, Pathfinder’s Golarion or Doctor Who gives you a context to fit information into should the opportunity arise to work in that universe. It’s much easier to absorb information when you have some idea how it all fits together.

Identify Key Texts

Every property has its touchstones. Usually, they’re some of the oldest stories in that universe, but not always – long-running IPs get rebooted every so often, and a more recent tale that sets up the current incarnation may be more relevant to what you’re doing. The actual stories are of secondary importance – what you need to do is absorb the feeling of the setting, so your story fits into the greater whole. You can put your own distinct spin on the story, of course, but you want it to be complementary. 

There’s a key difference here, by the way, between a story that looks on an existing setting in a new way, and one that undermines that setting. When you’re a new writer on a setting, it’s very tempting to take the broad themes and address one of them, but you need to be careful not to undermine what makes the setting appealing. Doing a story about the absurdity of the Imperium in 40k is fine; doing it in a way that makes the Imperium seem silly isn’t. Your story has to work as part of the greater property, so identifying what makes those key texts resonate with fans is important.

Find A Niche

When you’re new to a setting, you lack the deep background knowledge of the committed fans, so it’s easy to run afoul of some bit of nerd trivia or obscure fact. Your editors and loremasters can help you avoid these traps, but it’s time-consuming to go back and forth endlessly asking questions and revising outlines to account for one bit of lore or another. Therefore, look for little enclaves where you’re less likely to run into canon traps – either set your story in an under-explored place, or write a ‘bottle show’ where everything takes place in a confined set of circumstances. 

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