Sunday, February 12, 2012

Story Fiction verus Sourcebook Fiction

As I am writing this, I have two more Battlecorps stories being looked over by the writer's workshop, so I have a few days to concentrate on some assigned sourcebook writing I am doing for an upcoming project.

My first sourcebook writing was a couple of entries in the TRO: Prototypes, and apparently I didn’t do too badly. I can’t go into any detail about what I’m writing about, but I will drone on about the challenge of writing sourcebook fiction.

Battletech has two types of fiction: Story and sourcebook. Story fiction is just that, stories set in the universe. Sourcebook fiction on the other hand, is fiction that’s written as if it is a document from that period of time. News articles, excepts from books, transcripts, all designed to give the reader that they’re reading history, not fiction. It’s adding color to the universe.

I find there are two sorts of sourcebook fiction that I call textbook (main text) and color (Sidebars).
Textbook is exactly what it sounds like: the fiction reads as if it’s from a textbook – who, what, where, why and how. It sketches out the big picture, Unit A&B attacked here, Units C&D retreated, Unit E panicked and popped a nuke over A city. Enough information to give the reader an understanding of what’s going on. Usually, the textbook is the main text of the product. It can be bias, but its normally subtle compared to the sidebars.

Color (Sidebar) are the small articles next to the main text that are usually short and done in a completely different style from the rest of the text. It can be something like a letter, part of a radio conversation, a news item, or an except from an article or book. The sidebar can be slanted to reflect the character writer’s viewpoint, or can show that maybe the main text isn’t quite right (Unit E didn’t panic and popped the nuke – they were ordered to by the senior CO) They supply ‘color’ to the product.

Most of what I’ve been assigned to write fits into the main text category, and it’s a challenge. It takes a different sort of mindset to write sourcebook fiction.

First, I have a set word limit for the section I’m doing. With story fiction, I can be over by three or hundred words over my target word count, as an extra page isn’t a big deal. However, I can’t do that with sourcebook fiction, as there is a set page limit for the product, and it cannot go over that page count. This is a multi-author product, and if each section is over its word count by one hundred words, less by a quarter of a page, the product will be more than half a dozen pages over its target, which means it becomes more expensive to produce. Make no mistake: these products are budgeted for so many pages and anything over that throws things out of whack and brings the Wrath of Herb down on those who caused the problem.

Second, inside the word limit, I have to include the important information that section is suppose to have. Its informational writing, even though the information is fictional. That means the style and tone is different from story fiction – third person, omnipresent if its from a textbook, more personal if it’s a sidebar.

Third, the level of detail is different. My fictional stories are centered around a small group of characters and is at "Grunt-eye" level. They’re pulling the triggers and getting killed. But sourcebook fiction is centered far above the grunt’s perspective. Instead of company-level, the action is described at RCT, war front-level action, along the lines of, "Unit X landed on Planet Mongo 23 September where they fought Unit ABC, pushing them off the planet by 5 October."

Fourth and last, I have a deadline. With Battlecorps stories, I can take six months to work on a story. Sourcebooks have a deadline, in this case, March. 11,000 - 12,000 words in several different sections. It's a challenge, one I want to take on. That means most of my efforts are geared toward working things out.

Once the product comes out, I'll point out what I wrote and why. But for now, I have to get back to work!!



  1. Hi! Although your examples ("Unit X landed on Planet Mongo 23 September where they fought Unit ABC, pushing them off the planet by 5 October") suit the point you're making about scope and point of view, I just wanted to add that it is possible to spend too many pages sticking too narrowly and shallowly (Brush Wars, War of 3039, FedCom Civil War SB) to those particular examples, and that 'textbook' fiction often addresses other topics (motivation, political climate, and the personal experience of key individuals) as well.

    The main thrust of your post, the actual writing constraints, make sense; I wonder if underwriting is ever a problem, or if that's easier for layout to make up for by inserting art.

  2. I conceeded that part of it, but the main text of a source is like a textbook -- the details at a certain level. The sidebars add color to the main text.

    I have no experence with underwriting my sections -- they sections I overwrote the first draft, then went back to cutting to 1600 words.....B-)

    Thanks for reading!


  3. Curious - when writing these, how much background information is given to you? How much leeway do you have in making up the history?

  4. Depends on the product -- for TRO:Prototypes, I had some facts that had to be included in the write-up, the original XTRO entry as a basis, and word limit. As long as I stayed inside the framework of those three things, I had complete freedom. For another, I was given a unit name, and complete freedom to write up their background. A small piece in another product gave me complete freedom, based on an a pitch to Herb.

    So, it depends -- I have freedom, as long as I don't go outside the box.....