Writing in Shared Worlds

Shared Worlds!I apologize for the lateness of my post. I’m a little brain-fried at the moment. My wife and I just got back from a whirlwind trip from Richmond to Searcy (and back again) to pick up Thing1 from intercession classes. 2,000 miles in two days. 30 hours in 48 on the hour. Over the July 4th weekend. It was glorious!

It took most of the weekend to recover, and gave me a certain perspective on one of my projects that is coming to completion: the tribulations and joys of writing in a shared world.

I’ve been working on Project Blackford for a while, and this past week things have finally come together. This is my first foray into writing a short story in another author’s shared world. It has both the hardest and most rewarding writing I’ve done in a long time, and I’m happy to share some of the particulars with you.

Project Blackford is a story for Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris‘s ongoing Tales from the Archives series, part of their Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences universe. My contribution, entitled “Foothold,” will be available at the Ministry next month as a 99-cent penny dreadful, and as a free podcast. The road there has been interesting.

Mind your P’s & Q’s

I was given a bible to the world of the Ministry, and a list of dos and don’ts. My initial draft was slightly under four times the hard limit for a Ministry short story. I violated one of the don’ts. Fortunately, Pip & Tee are very good people. My story wasn’t rejected out of hand, but I was required to cut it down. This was harder than I anticipated. In one of the cut scenes, a supporting character loses a spouse to consumption, providing the needed motivation for his later actions. All of that needed to be rewritten. I gritted my teeth and started cutting and sewing.

I hate to admit it, but the result was a faster paced and cleaner tale. It wasn’t what I originally envisioned, but that vision was far too big for a short story. This version would be definitive. I was confident that my edits, as brutal as I believed them to be, had cut the story down as far as needed. Then, I met Katie.

Don’t Step in Front of Canon

Katie Bryski is an editor at One-Stop Writers Shop, a new resource for independent writers. Katie reduced the word count even more, tightening up paragraphs, condensing sentences, and, in general, making the page scream “Uncle!” I highly recommend Katie as an editor. Not one time did she make me feel like a prima donna as she smiled, slicing into my work, over my objections, screams and foot stamping. In the end, my story, re-titled now as certain plot elements had been removed, read cleaner, smoother, and tighter. Surely this version was definitive!

Then, Pip & Tee contacted me. They loved the story. Well, they liked it a lot. However, I was taking some of the characters down non-canonical paths; would I fix that, please? One of those characters was the protagonist, changing him changed the story. So, I compromised. I changed the character… and the story, trying to preserve the elements I felt were unique. At last, a definitive copy!

Then, Tee contacted me.

This is Not My Sandbox

If you have the opportunity to collaborate, or just sit and talk to Pip & Tee, do it! I have learned a great deal about being a professional, independent author, not only from their con appearances, but also from the way they interact in social media. As I have said before, these are good people!

Tee had some ideas about my story, and suggested some editorial changes. I swallowed hard. If I made these changes, many of my unique elements would be lost, and the entire context would change. I worried about it, fretted over it, then finally, slept on it. In the morning, (after coffee, of course) I realized my unique elements and context didn’t fit in their universe.

They liked my story! Overall, they thought it was solid and entertaining! But, parts of it just didn’t work. I was trying to make it my universe, not theirs. They invited me in as a guest, it wouldn’t do for me to make off with the silver.

At that point, it was easier to make the edits Tee suggested. It required another title change but, in the end, I feel I have written a cracking Tale From the Archive!

Minding Manners

In the end, it’s all about being a good guest, someone people want to invite over again. (Please, Pip, Tee, anytime! I can clear my schedule!) My tale was never really ‘mine.’ I borrowed Pip & Tee’s world and ran it around the block a couple of times. Being a good steward means I needed to return it a little richer than I borrowed it.

Have I still got the original twenty-eight thousand word, first draft? Yes, I do and I already have plans for it. It was not a Ministry story, but “Foothold” is. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

DirtyMagick-LA_BookCover_we-196x300 Paul’s first published short story, “The Winds,” is part of “Dirty Magick: Los Angeles” – an anthology exploring the crossroads between urban fantasy and noir; mean streets, dirty magic! Available for Kindle and Nook.

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