So…what is the Writer’s Roundtable?
Greetings and welcome to what will hopefully be a…I dunno, bi-monthly(?) project here in The Dark City. We have a lot of aspiring writers of fluff who are looking to get better, and we have a large pile of rather talented writers who, I suspect, are hoping to hone their craft and become better. I noticed that on the (rare) occasions I logged into the Chat Box that I often seemed to be drawn into discussions about writing and my ideas about it. Since I casually poke into the Chat Box only rarely due to (fear) not being really about live chat, I figured maybe I could come up with a way to translate those discussions into regular forum debates.
What I hope to do with these is not really teach generic writing advice (though, I dunno, maybe if we have demand in that regard we’ll give it a whirl) but instead to try to generate discussion *specifically* about writing Dark Eldar in the Warhammer 40k universe. My plan is to pick a topic, sort of expound on how I handle the situation, and then toss open the doors to the other writers here.
Do you do stuff differently? Tell us how.
Do you see an interesting extra tweak to give it? Then share.
Do you have a question about accomplishing something related to the topic? Ask.
Do you have a story that you wrote that is relevant to the discussion? Bring it up, describe the situation.
The main goal is to give us all a chance to chat about writing, Dark Eldar, and how we work our magic or what struggles we have with it. Make sense? Awesome, let’s see how this flies, Orville.
Writer’s Roundtable # 2
So I (apparently) invented the Soul Chit, And Now You Can Too!
aka writing fluff that people will
This came up a little while back, I forget where (one of the RPG threads?), but there was a conversation about the 'soul chit'. Y'know, a representative trading marker equal in value to one soul that the DE use in their barter system.
I love the concept of the soul chit and it's in pretty much all of my writing, and I've seen it in other stories...and it turns out apparently I was the first one to use it, and now other people are using it also. Pretty darn flattering, really
But, the question is, why?
And the answer is 'because it makes a lot of sense in the fluff'
In many ways I feel like this is one of the most important things to do when you are writing DE. In the final analysis what we are all doing is fanfiction - we are writing stories based in a universe (and sometimes featuring characters) created by other writers. So...what does that mean for us s writers, and how can we maximize what it is we're striving for?
For me, the answer is to do two things;
1. Respect the existing Fluff.
2. Add to the existing Fluff in logical ways
Let's examine each of these ideas a bit more fully;
Respect the existing Fluff.
When you were a kid and you went over to your friend's house to play with their toys, it was generally taken as polite to sort of let them choose the game and also to try not to break their toys. I think it's the same way with fanfiction - we are borrowing these ideas from the giant toybox of our collective game world, and it's our job to treat them with respect and return them in as good a shape as we found them.
For instance, if I were to write a story about Wyches and was to have Lelith show up in the story - it would be a bit jarring to the readership if I had my own personal Wych character prove to be more beautiful, cunning, and skilled in combat than Lelith, and then have her kill Lelith and take over her Cult. That's an intense decision to do, and at the end of the day there is no reason for it.
I could easily have my Wych outsmart a Succubus of my own creation. I could take a bit of time building up the threat and ability of my Succubus and then have my Wych trounce her to showcase how skilled and potent my Wych is. The use of Lelith as the Succubus who is trounced would be nothing more than lazy writing (Let's see, I need a powerful Succubus...oh, hey, Lelith!) and it is also a choice to diverge from the timeline and story of 40k by killing off a major character.
Also, for those in the know, it also rather smacks of a Mary Sue - warning, clicking that link may cost you many hours of your day, you have been warned.
But, in any case, you have treated the 'communal toy' of Lelith (no subtext intended) badly, and the reader is, to my mind, likely to react to that.
Another thing to avoid is big shifts in the fluff.
Space Marines are killing machines.
Orks are brutishly cunning (or cunningly brutish)
A power sword can cleave through all but the toughest personal armors.
These are things we, as fans of the universe are aware of. A story set in that universe should understand and respect those fluff matters. If every Eldar warrior is wielding a bolter and Terminators backflipping off Rhinos then you're either reading a book by C.S. Goto - or a badly written piece of 40k fanfiction (some argue there is little difference) because, at the end of the day, we want to read 40k fiction that, y'know, seems to be happening in the 40k universe we know.
So, make sure to know the fluff to a decent level, and respect it. You want your readers to not feel like you're making a butchery of what they love, and if they're reading your 40k DE fanfic then they probably love 40k and DE, so...y'know, understand the basics of how DE work and also know enough about the overall 40k universe to write it in a way that won't jar them out of the story.
Add to the existing Fluff in logical ways
That all said...
We're writers, we want to do things and change stuff, and add our spin. So, since we don't want to just repeat what the Codex has written up, how do we write stories about the universe without messing it up?
Well, first off, understand why you're going to do what you are about to do. It's actually okay to change or add or mix stuff up, but don't do it from ignorance and NEVER do it without a reason. Maybe your story needs Lelith to end up dead, but there better be a good reason for it and that reason should include reasoning that it has to be Lelith and not some other Succubi - because if it doesn't need to be Lelith, than it probably shouldn't be.
The same with fluff matters, if you're going to have a cowardly Space Marine or an reasonable Ork there ought to be ways to do so within the fluff to have it all make sense.
Finally, feel free to add to the fluff, but when you do make sure it makes sense and fits the already known fluff, the better your changes and additions flow with what is known, the more likely they are to not bother a reader and, indeed, the more likely they are to please them.
Let's talk some specifics here;
First off, let's talk about the title piece, and discuss the soul chit. Now, that is something that was invented out of whole cloth and tossed into the world of 40k and yet got semi-decent appreciation and even reuse. Why? Because it just worked within the confines of the fluff really well.
Here's what we know about the DE from the fluff;
They use a barter system, not currency.
They value souls above all else to stave off She Who Thirsts.
That's it, that's the info we have about them and buying and selling things. So it leaves a lot of room open for a writer. When I was writing some scenes in a market and wanted my characters to pay for a good there came a question to me...well, okay, it's a barter system but there's a reason that we don't use the barter system anymore, and that's because the barter system is unwieldly and kinda dumb. I mean, here are the Eldar, masters of creation, and they're still supposed to be trading furs for wine around their markets? It just seems silly, when you go out to buy something you don't even know what good the merchant might demand, so are you just going to walk up and be like 'Hey, i need a splinter rifle, how many boxes of these candied sweetmeats will that be? No, I don't care if you don't want them, let's cut a deal!'
Early societies almost universally adapted 'chits' to represent their trade goods. All the way from cowry shells in India to our current dollars or pounds (both of which represent a promissory for a set value of gold...or silver, seriously, some American dollars are silver notes, and are based on silver, not gold. Check your wallet for an amusing possibility) So, if basic tribesmen can come up with shells, and mon'keigh can manage paper notes it makes a lot of sense that DE would have some sort of portable tender.
At the same time, it is clearly defined that they don't consider precious metals or gems to be intrinsically valuable.
So, what else is there?
Well...the souls, naturally. Slave cattle are intrinsically valuable because they represent potential extension of the life of the owner. Therefore, a promissory note or 'soul chit' would have intrinsic value to a DE, a signifier that he held the right to a soul, and someone who had many such chits would be better off than others.
Heck, there's even built in 'interest' via breeding
Thus was born the 'soul chit' it's a simple enough concept, look at the fluff, note an issue, and then work within the limitations of the fluff to come up with a solution that makes sense with all the info you have.
For just totally changing up a universe, I'd point to "The Adventures of I-XV7-DM"
by Painbiro. Which, if you haven't read it yet, you owe it to yourself to give a quick scan.
Painbiro breaks a number of the rules I advocated. He has Vect as a bit of a doddard. He has Commoragh invaded and smashed apart multiple times. He changes up a number of main DE characters, and it all works...why? Because he's doing a comedy, so right off the front he's presenting an 'alternate universe'. That is like writing The Dornian Heresy. As long as you establish for your readers that rules are going to be different, you can get them to come along with you for the ride a lot better than just lobbing them a curve ball part way through.
So, basically, respect the rules of the universe.
If you're going to bend (or break) them make sure you understand why you're doing so and have it advance the story.
And, remember, it's a shared universe, anything you write ought to be able to mesh with the base fluff, and also, hopefully, with other fanfic writers on this, and other sites.
That’s how I handle writing within the fluff.
How do you do it?