Hi, Cav! What sort of balance do you have to strike between the creative stuff you want to do and the overall outline set by the Story Group? Thanks!
It all depends on the project in hand. For example, for my upcoming story in Star Wars Adventures the brief was simple: ‘pitch a two-part story with Rogue Squadron’. For that, I suggested a couple of different stories and the various editorial teams and story group chose their favourite.
Other briefs are more detailed, but they’re usually guidelines rather a definite list of instructions. I’ve never had a set outline delivered from Lucasfilm telling me exactly what the story needs to be. There are often beats that you need to hit, especially when you’re working on a story that links directly into a movie, TV show or game, but that’s part of the challenge when working in a shared universe, creating the best story you can within the required parameters.
The brief for Dooku: Jedi Lost is a good example of the kind of lead you can be given.
This is what I received for the then unnamed Dooku project back in September 2018:
Count Dooku Story
The Count Dooku story should focus on the relationship between Dooku and Asajj Ventress, by using flashbacks and parallel storylines to:
· delve into Dooku’s past
· reveal why he left the Jedi Order
· reveal how he began the Separatist movement
· show how he came to train Ventress in the ways of the dark side.
The story should not be about Dooku turning to the dark side, but about him leaving the Jedi Order. This will give us the opportunity to create a very personal story for Dooku—to show him as a “good guy,” an idealist, who leaves the Order because he is not happy with the direction taken by the Republic and the Order. Dooku does not want to become a puppet of either, the irony being he will ultimately wind up a puppet of Sidious. In his “good guy” role, we can showcase his relationships with Yoda, Qui-Gon, and Mace, as well as his training with Yoda and of Qui-Gon, both of which will inform his training of Ventress.
This story can also show the beginnings of the Separatist movement; this was something Dooku began before he went to the dark side. We can also explore his return to his life as a count, and the physical trappings he had left behind.
In addition, we can also show some of his relationship with Master Sifo-Dyas, as a way to plant some seeds there.
We suggest using a framing device of Dooku as we know him in the films to tell this story. We can see him training Asajj Ventress, telling her the story of why he left the Order as part of a lesson he is teaching her. This will give us the ability to jump through time and also compare/contrast his training of Ventress with how Yoda trained him, and how he trained Qui-Gon. What does he do the same/differently? Does his contentious relationship with Ventress remind him of fights with Yoda? This is also a great opportunity to show Ventress pre-Clone Wars and explore her relationship with Dooku, all before we return to The Clone Wars later this fall.
From there, I pulled together a pitch that I sent back to Del Rey, the publisher, who in turn sent it onto Lucasfilm. It was my own interpretation of the above notes and was bounced back and forth between all three of us until the final green light was given.
In a similar way, the notes you receive from Story Group on final manuscripts vary from project to project. Most of the time they’re as simple as trying to make sure that the story you’ve written doesn’t clash with other media that is being produced. They quite often also suggest swapping out certain aspects of world-building you’ve included to something that would tie into other storytelling, such as the name of a planet or a suggestion of a specific piece of tech.
At other times, notes from Story can prod some of your narrative decisions. For example, why is this character acting in a certain way? Does this match up with what we already know about them?
The great thing about working with Story Group is that if they ultimately say no to something, they always offer an alternative. Taking that alternative is very rarely mandatory, but nine times out of ten, the suggestion is solid gold.
Do I sometimes push back? Of course, especially if I feel strongly about a specific beat, but even then it’s always a discussion, part of an ongoing conversation to find a solution that works for everyone.