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Discussing Eberron and Blood Bowl fiction with Matt Forbeck
Posted By Flames On August 25, 2008 @ 6:30 am In Authors,Interviews | 3 Comments
In fact, there’s more than a little cowboy thrown into every thing he does. Check out the Lost Mark Trilogy for an idea of how seamlessly the Wild West and heroic fantasy can meld into something much bigger than the sum of both genres.
For the last twenty years, most of Forbeck’s work—game design, fiction, non-fiction—has in some way or another been connected to a shared world or licensed setting. He has worked with many settings from just about every possible angle—writer, editor, and developer.
A while back, Forbeck and I talked about writing in general and shared world writing in particular.
FORBECK: The best part about writing in a shared world is that someone else has done much of the heavy lifting for you. Many of the details about the setting and how it works are already set in stone, and you don’t have to worry about constructing these things.
The biggest disadvantage, of course, is the other edge of that same sword. Since many things about the world have already been decided, there are constraints you have to live within. You can’t just do whatever you want.
[You have to] learn as much as you can about the setting before you begin. This saves lots of time and frustration down the road. There’s little worse than coming up with a great story and then realizing you built it upon premises that are flat-out wrong.
FORBECK: A good writer should always pay attention to the characters and the story, so working in a shared-world setting doesn’t force you to do so, as much as it frees you. It gives you back the time you’d otherwise spend on world building.
FORBECK: These are all great points. The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW.org) started up 2005 with the ambition to help change minds about books like these. There are a slew of articles posted there that can help answer your question.
One of the reasons I think tie-ins get a bad rap is that the community of dedicated fans in most genres prefers to read things new and different. It’s only natural, as these people spend a lot of time reading and know all the tropes of their chosen genres, front and back. So they focus on what’s novel in novels rather than just reading good stories well told.
Check the sales figures, though, and you’ll see that most tie-ins outsell most original work. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is the trust that people have in the brands those shared worlds have built. The readers, who vote with their dollars, seem to know what they like.
FORBECK: My editor Mark Sehestedt pounded this one into me. Eberron is pulp fantasy, D&D mixed with Indiana Jones. To get that across: it’s cliffhanger, cliffhanger, cliffhanger. In my Eberron books, there are all sorts of twists and turns, and the chapters are all short and punchy, each ending with some kind of cliffhanger.
FORBECK: Probably a combination of all those things. In the case of both Keith Baker and me, our first Eberron novels were our first novels of that length. (I’d written a Knights of the Silver Dragon novel, but it was less than half as long as Marked for Death.) I’d like to think both of us improved as writers with our later books. I’m certain I did, although I haven’t had a chance to read Keith’s second novel yet.
Also, when Keith and I started writing our novels, the Eberron Campaign Setting hadn’t been published. The first I saw of it was as a 12-page brief. Although I’m sure Keith knew a bit more about the world than I did when he started writing, there were still huge gaps in the setting at the time, things we had to try to avoid stepping into without really knowing where they were. This made the process that much more challenging. With the later books, we stood on firmer ground.
FORBECK: These days, the Eberron Campaign Setting (ECS) serves as the line’s primary bible. When Keith and I started writing, we didn’t have that to refer to, so it often felt like dancing in the dark, trying hard not to step on anyone’s toes.
The first novels and the setting were developed in parallel, but the RPG book always took precedent. I suspect as time rolls on that the RPG authors will incorporate some of the elements from the books, although they’re not obligated to do so.
Wizards of the Coast has since developed a writers’ guide for Eberron that features details not included in the ECS. It’s packed with things like proper punctuation, information about the moons, and other helpful bits of information.
When developing a bible, you need to make clear the basics of the setting, the scope, the tone, and so on. If there’s no central arbiter of what’s right or not, you need to have some means of resolving conflicting ideas, too.
As you build the bible, you discover what questions need to be answered. A lot of it depends on the writers’ intent for their stories. With some writers, the kind of currency doesn’t matter, whereas with others it’s a vital detail. You could do worse than to pick up an RPG setting book and modeling your bible on that, although that may bring you more detail than you care to deal with. It’s easy to get carried away in the creating of the world and forget about getting down to writing the actual stories.
FORBECK: The obvious choice would be Marked for Death, but I’m the first to admit that it doesn’t stand well on its own. Also, the second book in that trilogy, The Road to Death, is a better read. If you don’t mind jumping into the middle of a story, I’d try that one.
Blood Bowl is a fine standalone book, but it’s hyper-violent and humorous, which makes for a strange mix. Still, it’s a lot of fun and turns some of the standard fantasy tropes on their ear.
FORBECK: The Thieves’ World anthologies are great. They were one of the first such settings to get lots of use by a wide cast of top-notch authors usually known for their original work.
You can find similar anthologies for Star Wars, Vampire: The Masquerade, Dragonlance, and the Forgotten Realms. There’s one for Eberron, Tales of the Last War.
FORBECK: I am, and I can’t. Well, that’s dull, so let me say that, at the moment, I’m negotiating to write a novel based on a popular MMO, and I’m sure there will be more such books in my future.
Interview by Jeremy Jones
Visit www.forbeck.com  for the latest updates on Matt’s upcoming fiction, games and other projects.
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 www.forbeck.com: http://www.forbeck.com
 12 for ’12 Interview with Matt Forbeck : http://www.flamesrising.com/12-for-12-interview-matt-forbeck/
 Talking About the Dead (and Undead) with James Lowder : http://www.flamesrising.com/talking-dead-with-james-lowder/
 Matt Forbeck tells us about Amortals : http://www.flamesrising.com/forbeck-amortals-interview/
 Interview with Fantasy author Paul S. Kemp : http://www.flamesrising.com/paul-s-kemp-interview/
 Interview with Ralan Conley, creator of Ralan.com : http://www.flamesrising.com/ralan-conley-interview/
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