Talking About Tropes is a series where I talk about storytelling tropes and my thoughts on them. I also talk about certain tropes related to my works and why I used them for that specific story. Today, I discuss my personal thoughts on Expanded Universe fiction.
Talking About Tropes: My Thoughts on Expanded Universe Stories
There’s something about the words “Expanded Universe” that makes readers and fans of original works tremble. Original novels told outside of the main canon that expand upon the original work and gives details that the show or movie or usually game couldn’t possibly tell in a single episode. So the studio would hire authors to create works for them.
Franchises such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Halo, and Warcraft are some of the most common and well known. But most of them are accused of being inferior to the magical storytelling power that the original works provide. It’s understandable why people would feel this way.
Even reading a few expanded universe stories myself, I can’t imagine anything better than watching or playing the original work myself instead of reading it. Sure, you might be familiar with characters and locations and can easily imagine them in your head, but most of the time you’re thinking “Wouldn’t this be so cool if this was a movie?”
There are some reasons why people do this instead of making an actual film or episode.
Books are simply easier to make than movies and TV shows. Not only do visual media groups have to spend months hiring actors, writing scripts and film sequences (on top of all the post editing for special effects and what-not), most authors spend maybe a few months writing a rough draft and then release it later to tie it in with the film in question. It’s understandable why so many companies resort to tie-in books to fill in the gaps.
It’s also an unusual experience going from something visually to a format where you have to read words. Naturally, all of the scenes play out in your head rather than on a TV screen (or computer, smartphone, whatever). It’s a far cry from whatever material it’s based on.
That doesn’t usually mean the work is inferior, but I can see the issues it would present. How would you like it if a side story starring the sidekick was relegated to a several hundred page book rather than a mini-movies? Imagine reading a Superman Story instead of watching a movie or reading a comic book. See what I’m getting at?
There are some good tie-in books, but most of them not only have a small fraction of what the impact the shows make, but most of them can be underwhelming compared to the official works.
And it’s not just books. There’re also tie-ins that are comics. These are somewhat more interesting since it’s more visual than reading a book. I have read only a few of these expanded universe comics, but most of them have been online, so I can’t say for certain how these really are in quality. I’m familiar with comics based on various material like Game of Thrones and even Star Wars.
Good tie-in media?
One of my favorite authors in tie-in media is Christie Golden. She’s written a lot of works for Blizzard and Star Wars, and if anything, she has some of the best writing out of all of them. If you want an example of what her writing style is like, then “Lord of the Clans” and “The Dark Templar Trilogy” (The latter was when I first heard of her) would be good starts.
There are few others that are okay. A Guild Wars 2 novel called Edge of Destiny by J. Robert King, which told the origins of Destiny’s Edge (Though admittedly, I haven’t finished it, but I did get pretty far in). Others such as Illidan by William King had an incredible and dark story that captured the Demon Hunter’s insidious history, but it’s writing wasn’t the best I’ve seen.
That’s really what it boils down to. Most of them aren’t “bad.” They certainly could have done a lot worse (or I guess, a lot better). But as far as writing goes, it’s where these get their reputation. Again, some of these authors are good. I never would have imagined that one of my favorite authors would write expanded universe fiction.
It’s probably worth looking into if you want something different. The Halo novels seem to be popular, though I haven’t read any of them.
Can we write them off completely?
As far as everything goes with expanded universe fiction, most people genuinely consider it inferior to the original work, but I can see the mentality. Most of them tend to be simply “okay” in regards to quality. However, I’ve seen some pretty good stories from various authors. I’m always in favor of giving something a chance before writing it off completely. And I feel expanded universe stories might have something that makes you look at it and go, “wow, this is actually pretty good!”
To me, I can see the comparison to fan fiction. Yes, there’s a lot of crappy fanfics out there, but there are a few that are actually pretty good.
So if there’s a game or TV show you like, maybe check out a few books or comics. Was there any you liked? Is there any you would like to see? I’m curious to know what you think.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the Inn is always open.