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I am sure there are many GMs or player groups out there with this same idea of writing a novel out of their campaign, even if jokingly. I have been GMing a campaign for some years now and I am thinking about taking a chance and give it a try.

But some questions come to my mind for which I would like to hear the opinion of fellow players and GMs:

  • Collaboration in the writing: is it a good idea to write a book collaboratively, like in say, each player writing a different chapter from his character's point of view and then glueing them all together?
  • Writing an unfinished story, expecting future novels: i have no idea on how to deal with an unfinished story (campaign) and how to adapt to the growing campaign from a novel writing point of view.
  • Intellectual property handling: on the one hand the campaign is driven by the GM, and almost everything in the campaign comes from his mind. On the other hand, the story wouldn't be alive without the players' interactions and decisions. If it comes that the novel produces any revenue, who should be entitled to a part?

Any opinions on these points would be of great help.

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Inspiration from existing work is fine, using someone else's copyright is not. –  Sardathrion Sep 24 '11 at 15:00
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are some examples of novels/series where this has been done in this question, so this is definitely not outside of the realm of possibilities.

As to your specific points:

  • One of the downfalls of most fantasy novels isn't the fact that they are genre fiction, but because of the fact that the writing is pretty bad. Though collaboration is quite common in writing, unless your group is full of budding writers, there would probably be more problems in this type of collaboration as opposed to the classic writing collaboration. There is also the inclination to write vs. play- two very different areas of hobby. As time goes on and this becomes work, if the inclination to finish isn't there on the part of the others' you'll have a hard time meeting any sort of timeline. The best thing to do is to gauge the other players' interest in doing so. And a way to cut down on the problems of collaboration is to do it as a series of short stories, rather than trying to merge the different viewpoints together.
  • Base the novel/story on a part of the story that's finished when working from an ongoing campaign. It will also make it more manageable if you do so, because you can localize themes and ideas across an adventure, rather than dealing with a moving target of a living campaign.
  • This is where lawyers come in. No matter what advice anyone has given you (even if they have gone through a similar process), the legal ramifications are based on what is contracted, which is going to be your personal experience with the legal counsel involved. There's also the point to get past of any copyrighted material that you may use in your campaign from the system that is being used to run it. If you do plan to make revenue off of it, it's better to handle this sooner than later. But there's also the outlay of funds for the lawyer, so it's a sticking point, and one that I'd be careful about getting into, as these types of novels don't tend to get published. Tor has a blog post about this, and why that is that is very good reading on the subject.

Kameron M. Franklin (a published writer of fiction and gaming supplements) made a blog post about this that is a good reference also; there are some good tips on making the transition.

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Having everyone collaborate in the writing and getting a good result seems a bit utopian. There is one player who can pull quite a good writing when he wants to, and I would like him to participate, whereas dealing with the others' writings could probe to be more of a headache. Anyway, it doesn't seem fair to allow one of them contribute while leaving the rest behind. Seems unfair. –  Fjcmz Sep 24 '11 at 15:36
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@Fjcmz I agree. But that's where editing comes in. And contribution doesn't necessarily have to be writing a whole segment- it could be done in an autobiographical manner where the actual text is ghost-written by a better writer, with the player supplying the content. –  wraith808 Sep 24 '11 at 17:03
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Do you have the time to write for at least one hours a day, every day? Do you have the drive to throw away all that you did and start over? Do you have the self confidence to be told "this is shit", re-write it just to be told "it's still shit" and re-write it again -- repeat this loop many times? Are you happy waiting many years and get hundreds of rejections letters to get published?

If so, you may have it in you to become a writer.

As for the story, no one will care about your characters or your story unless you make them. You need to approach this as an outsider and keep asking yourself: is this an in-joke? Why is this important? What do I need to tell the reader to make them care about my characters, about my story? What sets this apart from any other trash around?

Intellectual property wise, you can always use Creative Commons and self publish on the internet. It works rather well for Cory Doctorow but he is very good. Be careful, if you are writing about a game in a published world, you must get permission from the copyright holders. Ditto about inspirations -- for example, your character's white sword is called Thunderherald and is an angel in the shape of a sword will get you sued by Moorcook. If the game is released under certain flavors of CC (like Eclipse Phase) then you can use the background but cannot make money from it.

Les bons comptes font les bons amis (lit. good accounts make for good friends) is a good saying. Make sure that you all sign (yes, printed paper) contract about how any money is to be shared -- based on edited word count with ideas as "open source" for example. If you are planning to publish, you need a set up fee (minimum of £100) for anyone wanting profits. If someone does not want to invest money into the venture, do not let them share profit. Do consult a lawyer as well which can be paid for by some of the initial money.

Finally, if you do write it up, please let us know.

All the best and good luck.

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I had one long campaign after which on of the players and I considered doing this, but going back and bowdlerizing all the IP was a showstopper; it was obviously D&D/Greyhawk/Night Below and other adventures.

Firstly, forget having everyone write a part and stitch it together - at least not if you want it to be a real, publishable-quality novel, unless you have a gaming group of all professional writers. Because it won't be that good. If you just want to Creative Commons self-publish on the Internet though, go ahead. This is less "a novel" and more "session summaries and player homework" though.

Secondly, there's a difference between publishing "accurate" session summaries and writing a novel. There is no uncrafted story in a novel - you will need to take extreme liberties with the campaign events to put them into a real dramatic structure. At the end the book might be "open for a sequel" but you need to either wait till the campaign's over or decide you're OK with deviating more and more from its real path as you progress.

Thirdly, there may be a lot of IP issues. The game, the adventures, anything you use in it can't be from another published work (certain open licenses excepted, but in reality no). And this kind of thing is pretty complicated - if you write all the novel, it's copyright you and you deserve all the $ for doing all the work. But to the degree to which it's based on other copyrighted material you may have problems. Heck, I remember one game company - White Wolf I think - claiming it holds copyright on all the characters you make as they are derivative of its IP (not a solid claim but one that might be a problem for you). Keep in mind that an "open" license or a "free" game does NOT necessarily allow you unrestricted use of the IP. d20 SRD material, for example, is still copyrighted; you can only do with it what the license lets you, and works of narrative written fiction are not explicitly included. You have to totally understand the license around any preexisting content you plan to derive from.

As for the players, I'd have them sign releases, that's probably the best way of going about it. If you make the .1% chance of making it big (even assuming you finish the novel) then bragging at cons and whatnot is more than adequate compensation. You're all playing together, but you are writing the book, and the limited $ that comes from that is for the writing, not the inspiration. When a writer goes and writes a book on some real life organization or whatnot, they don't kick them part of the proceeds.

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All the advice previously here is great advice.. and should be heeded. I have tried several times. Novel writing is VERY different from writing encounters/plots or even settings. My players constantly tell me i should publish... but thats a whole level of commitment (as noted previously by others) that most people do not seem to have. My advice is to write up what happens during the adventure afterwards as a sort of running story which can be read like a story. This will get you used to writing in a different voice/style. It also makes you realize what the perceptions of the characters are... when you look back and think "why did they do that?" you begin to delve into the character's insides and you must have this perspective to write the characters realistically and to have any sort of in-depth character development. I find i can write short stories - really just a couple dozen pages tops... then i lose focus and i begin second guessing all the work and thinking like a GM, not like a writer. Try first writing up your campaign notes into a nice, legible format. Have a neutral party edit them though - you will 90% of the time (unless you are really a gifted writer) need an editor. Also, have your players read it and give you input from their side of viewing it - again, this will help you with characterization and voice.

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