I have had the honor of getting asked to write in someone else’s world. In early 2020, before the lockdown, Heads and Tails publishing was working with Michael Gallowglas, and he was going to get several writers to draft novelettes in two of his properties. Some of these potential writers are famous and well established, while others were unknown quantities like me. I was to write in his Dead Weight universe, which is about the US Marine’s response to a fairy invasion, told from the perspective of a storyteller.
By the time the pandemic hit, I had about a third of the story written. I started it right after I saw the first draft of the contract. Covid wiped out Heads and Tails, the publishing deal disappeared, and I continued drafting that story. It’s called Dead Weight: Air Superiority and it pulls heavily from my real-world experience in the Air Force, deviating from reality when a fantastical version of my old squadron is deployed to establish air control in a desert where dragons are dominating the skies.
The truth be told, I really enjoyed working on that story, at least in the beginning. I didn’t enjoy the work so much in the middle and the end, but that was because I was fighting depression like so many other people, as Covid changed the world around me. Pandemic not withstanding, I enjoyed diving deep into the world and studying it, getting the rules and mechanics of the setting in my head, so that I could play with those same mechanics in a way that honored the original work while still allowing me to tell a story that is from my heart and mind.
It wasn’t exactly the first time I wrote in someone else’s property. I played on the Star Wars MUSH for many, many years, and I often think of that more as writing fanfiction than anything. None of it is publishable, or even particularly good, but I learned so much from that experience about writing compelling characters with their own unique voices. There are ideas from that time that I want to pull forward and make into full novels, the way I brought Mel forward from a roleplaying game and created The Repossessed Ghost. But those novels will have to wait.
In front of me now is another opportunity to write in a shared world, The Truckstop at the Center of the Galaxy, published by Water Dragon Publishing. There are many stories written and out in the world already, and I’m looking forward to diving into them with the same energy I had when I worked on the Dead Weight story.
It reminds me a little of when WriteFightGIFClub worked on the Hotel stories. It was another shared universe idea, multidimensional, with certain characters and landmarks that could show up in each of our stories. I’m actually quite pleased with The Reluctant Apprentice, my entry for that series. I think if we were braver and a little bit more organized, we could have put those stories together into an anthology, but I think what we did was enough.
I used to think that writing a story for an established franchise was unappealing. I like my original stories, settings, and characters so much. Why would I want to give up any part of the creative process? Why would I want to be confined to someone else’s rules?
Now I see it differently. I still prefer creating original characters and focusing on those for my stories, the way Timothy Zahn did with his Heir to the Empire Star Wars novels. But I think the external rules encourage a kind of creativity that you don’t find when the canvas is completely empty.
I have some really fun projects in front of me. Tomorrow, I’m going to meet up with Mike and we’re doing to do some writing. Maybe I’ll make some more progress on the next Mel Walker story. Maybe I’ll reorganize my thoughts and outline on the sequel novel to The Repossessed Ghost.
If you’re like I was and you think writing in someone else’s world wouldn’t be fun, I challenge you to reconsider. Just for fun, pick your favorite franchise and try to write some fanfiction in that world. Keep the pressure off yourself and see what happens. It is a lot more fun than it appears, and it might expand what you know about creativity with boundaries.