The Tie-In Life
By Raymond Benson
Homefront: The Voice of Freedom, which I co-wrote with John Milius is a prequel to the events portrayed in the upcoming Homefront videogame produced by THQ. The novel serves as both a back story for the game, but can also be read as a stand-alone speculative thriller; you don’t have to be familiar with the game, or even be a gamer, to enjoy it.
It all began with Milius, who created the universe of the game. With the talented folks at THQ and developer Kaos Studios, Milius came up with backbone story of the Homefront universe: in the year 2025, an economically destitute America is invaded for the first time by a resurgent Korea, lead by Kim Jong-il’s dictator son, Kim Jong-un. It was decided that a prequel novel was the best way to take the audience from present day to the nightmarish 2027 featured in the game; to give them a story that explained how we got to that point over the next speculative fifteen years. That’s where I come in.
My name is Raymond Benson: tie-in writer.
Movie, television series, and videogame novelizations, as well as additional original adventures for existing franchises are known in the publishing industry as “tie-ins.” There happens to be a relatively small (and appreciative) group of us who are called upon by publishers to pen these types of books. Most of us belong to the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, an organization along the lines of Mystery Writers of America or International Thriller Writers, except that we focus exclusively on tie-in work. We even have our own awards! The “Scribes,” which are handed out annually for the best in speculative and general fiction (both original and adapted).
Tie-in writing has its own set of challenges. For one thing, you’re usually not working with your own characters. In the cases of strict novelizations, the story and characters are handed to you and it’s the writer’s task to flesh it all out in prose to novel length. For example, a screenplay is generally around 120 pages. Transposing the script’s action and dialogue into prose will give you about 40,000 words, which in book terms is way too short. So the tie-in writer must expand the existing scenes or, if the licensee allows it, invent additional new ones. With Homefront: the Voice of Freedom, I was given free rein to create the story and characters based on an outline written by Milius and various individuals involved in developing the videogame. That’s the best possible scenario for a tie-in writer—the opportunity to be creative in a world that already exists. The Star Wars, Star Trek, and James Bond franchises work this way. Tie-in writers are allowed to invent new stories and characters within the established universes. And while it’s not always the case, if a tie-in writer is actually a fan of the franchise upon which he/she is working, it can be a heck of a lot of fun!
Another area of difficulty for the tie-in writer is dealing with action, whether it be extended chase or fight scenes in a movie script, or “shooter” gameplay in a videogame. No one wants to read pages and pages describing how a character blasts away bad guys. The author must turn this videogame convention into a believable and suspenseful sequence. Then there is the opposite problem. No one wants to read numerous pages of a character sneaking through an environment without getting caught. This is the object of some videogames such as Metal Gear Solid. The player, as Solid Snake, must avoid being discovered. The player will feel tension and suspense with his/her hands on the controls. But if this situation was written in prose, it gets dull pretty quickly. I had to strike an entertaining balance between action and inertia, which some hardcore fans of the game may have found objectionable! They didn’t realize that a story such as this doesn’t work the same way in a different medium. Action or non-action must be appropriately adapted for a reader, not a player.
Homefront: the Voice of Freedom marks my twenty-third published book. Out of that number, seventeen are considered tie-ins. Ironically, these titles are the ones by which I make my living. With today’s fickle and uncertain trends in the publishing industry, I thank my lucky stars that I have a foot in the tie-in door. In fact, my very first published novel was a tie-in: Zero Minus Ten, a James Bond adventure. I was privileged to be chosen by the Ian Fleming Estate to take over the official 007 series after John Gardner’s retirement. For seven years I was at the helm of the Bond novels, certainly one of the most high-profile franchises in the world. Along with Star Wars and Star Trek, Bond is up there in stratosphere. A lot of the more recent tie-in works I’ve done were novelizations of popular videogames. My two books in the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series, written as “David Michaels,” were New York Times Bestsellers. For Del Rey, I penned two aforementioned Metal Gear Solid adaptations.
And now Homefront: The Voice of Freedom, of which I am extremely proud. For more about the story and characters in the thriller, see my previous article.
Tie-ins—great bread and butter work if you can get it, and I am grateful to Del Rey for the opportunity!
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