New York Times best-selling author Nancy Holder has written numerous Buffy and Angel tie-in novels, as well as co-authoring the first 2 Buffy Watcher’s Guides. A four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, she is the author of dozens of novels, short stories, and essays on writing and popular culture. Her novel Beauty and the Beast – Vendetta is out now from Titan Books.
by Nancy Holder
I am what is known as a professional “tie-in” writer. That means that I create additional material for TV shows, movies, video games, and other forms of storytelling for worlds and characters originated by other people. As such, I must please a number of masters: the creators/producers of the licensed “IP” or intellectual property, my editor at the company that is publishing my work, readers, and fans. If you’re writing what is called “fan fic” then you don’t work under the same limitations that I do.
For example, I must be careful not to violate the copyright of any other intellectual property when I’m writing a story. I have just published a new Beauty and the Beast novel titled Vendetta, set in the romantic, kick-ass world of NYPD detective Catherine Chandler and Vincent Keller, a former Special Forces soldier and doctor who was experimented on and turned into a Beast. I can’t pair Cat and Vincent with, say, Buffy Summers and Angel unless my publisher has acquired licenses to publish material for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the Series and Beauty and the Beast. However, if you’re writing fan fic, you can.
Given that some people reading this are interested in writing professional tie-ins, and some are fan-ficcers, what tips can I offer that will keep your writing about your favorite TV show strong, fun, and entertaining? We all want to get it right and make it good. Here are my five best tips:
1. KNOW THY SHOW.
What makes your show stand out? What are the elements that set it apart from all other shows in its genre? For example, Catherine and Vincent are destined lovers, but they have a grounded awareness that some things are more powerful and vital than their happiness-justice, for one thing. They are willing to sacrifice everything to protect innocents. This is not the case (I would argue) for some of the true-love pairs of Once Upon a Time.
2. EXPLOIT THE EXTREMES OF YOUR IP.
Part of the adventure of writing novels based in the world of Beauty and the Beast is the explosive unpredictability of genetically enhanced Beasts like Vincent. It might not be the best storyline to create an antidote that is introduced into the atmosphere of our entire planet. Maybe into the New York water system, so that it affects Vincent, but would leave a Beast holed up in Spain completely unchanged.
3. STICK TO THE RULES.
Consistency is part of what makes your beloved IP special. A real world, no matter how fantastical compared to ours, has limits. In my novel, Vendetta, it would make life easier for Vincent if he could become invisible. Everyone in New York City is searching for him. But while the Beast can fast enough to blur, but he can’t cloak himself like a Romulan warship. (However, this places him in greater jeopardy, which adds tension to the story. Tension is good!) Cat Chandler has access to all kinds of databases, but in Vendetta, she and Tess have to decipher a lot of cues using old-fashioned police work. Since BatB is a police procedural, this is also good!
4. BREAK IT OUT.
There are times when you as a fan know it’s time to break the rules. We all know about shows that superfans and critics alike feel have “gone off the rails “or become stale and/or predictable. You can supercharge a storyline to reset a show back to its original vision. A tie-in writer like me can accomplish this by choosing to emphasize aspects of the show that I feel represent the core elements. For example, I opened Vendetta with a deeply romantic scene between Catherine and Vincent as a signal that I, for one, am a huge shipper of the VinCat relationship, although this book was actually written when Catherine was with Gabe (at least on the air.)
5. HAVE FUN.
I have never taken a tie-in assignment for a show I didn’t like. I was thrilled to hear that I had gotten the chance to work on Beauty and the Beast because I was already watching it. When I received the scripts I sat down and read them back-to-back like a novel, and I made a game out of trying to figure out what fans like me would like more of. I decided to emphasize VinCat but also to give Tess and Cat a complicated case to solve, like in the first few episodes of season one. I used the structure of the pilot episode to lay out the clues. I also included Cat’s father Agent Reynolds because he is a character I love to hate. All these choices were based not only on what I thought fans might enjoy reading, but what would be lots of fun for me to spend several months writing. And I hope I got it right.
So there are my five top suggestions for writing about your favorite TV show. I think #5 is the most important—have fun. If you truly throw yourself into your adventure, readers will respond. And that’s the most satisfying result for a storyteller, whether you’re a fan-ficcer or a professional tie-in writer.