Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writing Battletech Fiction: The devil is in the details.

After writing sixteen Battlecorps stories, there is one thing I have learned. Namely, the story have
to fit into the universe, and not the universe fit into the story.

Writing inside a shared universe is much different then writing in your own universe. In your own
universe, you have to create everything — the events, the locations, the politics, the religion –
everything. There has to be a consistent logic to everything.

In the Battletech universe, everything is laid out, and that is both a plus and minus. A plus,
because I don't have to explain the details of how a PPC works, or what an Enforcer looks like,
or go into great details about Clan Ghost Bear. Most readers already know these things, so I can
get to the story and the characters. The background is there waiting to be used.

But it also imposes limits to what I can do. The major events arcs are the preview of the novelist
and the sourcebooks. I can't disregard them, or alter them. My stories have to fit in with
established events, to slip into the timeline without a ripple.

A word about continunity: it matters when I write Battlecorps stories. Many stories have been
killed in the continuity review, not because they weren't good stories, but because they didn't fit
into the events of that time.

It isn't always the writer's fault. We, as a group don't know everything that's being developed, or
how future events are being shaped. A story may be killed because the events in it clash with a set
of events already in the planning session. Sometimes, the writer finds out what those events are.
But it more than continuity. It's the DETAILS.

Details like the Combine's Military ranks, the model of missile launcher a Commando carries, or
the difference between a Nova and a Supernova formation. It's knowing that a Locust can't core
a BattleMaster with one volley, but a BattleMaster can do it to a Locust. It's looking at a map of
the Inner Sphere and trying to calculate how many jumps it'll take for your character to go from
point A to point B. It's keeping track of the character missile or autocannon rounds so I don't
have a missile launcher firing a volley two pages after its fired its last one. It's keeping a chart of
how much armor is left and know what is in that location on that 'Mech or vehicle. And it's
looking up worlds to see what's been already been written about them.

In some ways, it's a puzzle. Character A cannot be with Unit #1, because the unit was on the
other side of the Inner Sphere during this time period. So I need to find Unit #2 for Character A. What year does the story take place? 3025, so any unit listing that's later than 3025 is not needed for this story. Am I
using the Capellan Confederation armed forces in this story? Check the old House Liao
sourcebook for the right rank structure, because it's not the same one the Confederation has in 3075.

Next to my desk is a bookshelf, with over a hundred Battletech books running the entire lifetime
of the game. I had to put my original House Davion sourcebook into a binder because it was
falling apart and I will have to do the same for both the original House Kurita and Liao
sourcebooks very soon. I also have numerous PDFs, which range from copies of books I already
have, sourcebooks I don't have, and PDF-only formats. All those files easily doubles the number
of dead tree books I have at hand. Not far away is a shelf of Battletech novels, stacked three
deep, most, if not all, the first edition, Nearby, magazines that have Battletech articles in them, as
well as the entire Battletechnology magazine series. I estimate that ten percent of my library is
related directly to Battletech.

And it's just not Battletech. I have books on all sorts, from military history to weapons to even a
couple on tactics. I have PDF of a large selection of military handbooks and have several websites
bookmarked for other areas. I might never use 90% of the knowledge, but if I do need it, its

So, writing Battletech stories is both good and bad – good because most of the background
information is there, but bad because I have to go dig it out.....

More later!


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