Over at Ecstatic Days, Mark Charan Newton talks to Black Library superstar Dan Abnet about the strengths of fiction franchises, a conversation which should be had more.
Franchise novels are a much derided form of fiction. In some cases, the derision is spot on. Many franchise novels are poorly written, utterly generic and bottom line not very interesting. But then, the same can be said for much fiction of any kind. But it’s all to easy to overlook the genuine creative opportunity that franchise novels can provide their authors.
Some of my best early reading experiences were with franchise novels. Peter David’s Star Trek novels come to mind, as do Timothy Zahn’s first Star Wars trilogy (much better actually then the original films!) But my all time greatest franchise novel came from the early Games Workshop novels and the pen of the mighty Kim Newman. Drachenfels (written pseudonymously by Newman as Jack Yeovil) is to my mind one of the best dark fantasy novels ever written, and has held up to numerous re-readings over the years. It preempted the urge towards gritty realism and moral relativity that writers like Steven Erikson have since made their stock in trade. Novels like Drachenfels prove that in the right hands a franchise novel can be every bit as creative as original fiction.
Of course franchise novels have their unique limitations. One franchise writer I spoke to recently talked quite heatedly about the problems of writing a three novel arc that had to unfold between episodes 1 and 2 of a well known TV series, meaning that no chracters good experience any meaningful change for the whole arc. But at their best the limitations of franchise novels can become strengths. Franchises can be shared imaginative worlds that many talented authors can contribute to, becoming more than the sum of their parts. But perhaps most importantly, franchise novels can be a space for writers to play and have fun. Because the pressure and expectations applied to original fiction are lifted, franchise novels can, in an ironic twist, actually bring out the best in an authors imagination. In an odd way franchise novels allow authors to escape the demands of their own ambition and ego, to produce stories that aim wholey to entertain the reader.
Writing this is reminding me how much I would love, love,love, love, love to write a franchise novel in a franchise I was passionate about. Perhaps I’ll get the chance one day.
One thought on “Franchise Heaven”
As a spotty youth and Warhammer 40,000 player, I once casually picked up a tie-in novel called “Inquisitor” from my local GW store. This book was written by Ian Watson, and that book introduced me both to him and to a much wider world of SF than the diet of Star (Trek|Wars) that I’d hitherto been feeding on. So I have a lot of affection for that book, Ian Watson and franchise fiction in general. It can be a good gateway to greater things.
I have been working my way through the Black Library’s “Horusy Heresy” series, which seems to more or less obey Sturgeon’s Law like everything else. Dan Abnett’s work very definitely stands out from some of the others, but as a collective project it’s all very impressive indeed, and the sort of thing that probably isn’t even possible unless you have a major franchise and a company like GW backing you up.