The devil is in the details.
Sweat the small stuff.
It’s all small stuff.
These are mottos I live by when writing for BattleTech. With an intellectual property (IP) that’s old enough to drink, vote, be married, and have kids of its own, details matter. BattleTech fans know their stuff. This means I must know my stuff when I write anything for the BattleTech universe. If I don’t know it, I need to find someone who does and leverage their expertise.
I’m not even going to get into the fact that I was a military brat, that I lived on base/post most of my young life, and I’ve absorbed the customs and courtesies of what life on a military base is like. My whole family was military with my father spending twenty-one years in the Army. I lived in Belgium during the cold war. I have a good foundation of what being “military” means. But none of that matters when it comes to writing the good ’Mech fight.
There are a large number of hoops I jump through to make certain that the ’Mech battles on the page match the ’Mech battles of the game. So, let’s begin.
The first thing I do is create an outline and/or a synopsis for the story I want to tell. These must be approved by the BattleTech line developer and the BattleTech fiction editor. Once the basic story that includes who is going to win each fight is approved, then I move onto my BattleTech Think Tank (BTT). Every BattleTech author should have one of these.
A BTT is populated by 5-10 BattleTech super fans, proofers, and/or other authors who are willing to help the author out. The first thing I did was get my BTT to narrow down the ’Mechs and vehicles I would use for the trilogy. With hundreds of different kinds of ’Mechs and vehicles used across the eras and locations, I needed help to narrow down my choices. The ’Mechs would inform the narrative.
In my BTT, there is one super detailed, super smart guy who was willing to drop everything to answer my questions on the fly for The Nellus Academy Incident. That guy is Chris Love. Of course, I’ve tapped him to assist me with the Rogue Academy series. With the Nellus Academy, the ’Mech battles were light. With Iron Dawn, all the battles involve ’Mechs in one way or another.
The first thing Chris did was put together an “Author Technical Quick Reference Guide” that held the 33 different ’Mechs I will use for the trilogy. These set of ’Mechs encompasses the Mechs owned by the academy, the MechWarriors on Emporia, in the museum, and used by the invading Draconic Combine force. This guide includes pictures, variations on the ’Mech, general use, speeds, and weaponry. Everything an author needs to know to write a good story with some crunchy ’Mech battles in it.
Next up… a fight scene is a sex scene is a dance. You need to know where all the players are, where their limbs are, how physics works, and what their props are doing. When it comes to ’Mech fights, I talk to Chris about what I want. I give him a starting place (number of ’Mechs on each side) and an end place (who I want to win and if anyone dies). As you might imagine, this conversation is done online; in text and by Skype.
Then Chris, who has been playing BattleTech for 26 years, in his own words, does the following: “As far as running through the game sequences, I have our start point, our end point, and some idea of what needs to happen for the story. I’ll set up a tabletop scenario to satisfy the start conditions required in a way that’s most likely to generate the outcome(s) that the story needs, and then play through the game, recording each ’Mech’s actions and photographing the end of each turn so I can build a summary of the match.
“This might require multiple plays through the scenario or some dice-fudging, in order to get a close, meaningful fight, but always within the confines of what’s possible in the game. That way a fan can play through a battle they find in the story on their own tabletop.
“The most enjoyable challenge is making those cinematic moments work and stay true to the rules—the kinds of things you would normally never try on the tabletop, but would make for THE action shot in a movie trailer.”
After Chris completes his play through of the scenario, he breaks it down into a series of dance steps for each ’Mech in the fight. I then turn these dance steps into fiction prose. Once the fight is in prose form, I send the story back to Chris to make sure that I didn’t mess up something he put in one of the dance steps. I want him to read it like the BattleTech fan he is. Did it hit all the high and low notes of a good ’Mech battle?
Once both Chris and I are happy with the various battles and I’m happy with the story, the manuscript goes back to the BattleTech fiction editor, line developer, and the official BattleTech fact checkers (who usually catch something technically incorrect that none of us caught). By the time any of my BattleTech stories and ’Mech fights reach a reader, it has been read and re-read by multiple people—all of whom love the BattleTech universe.
If you’ve read my work and loved it, know I didn’t do it all alone. I had a good team backing me up. This is how I write the good fight.
Jennifer Brozek is a multi-talented, award-winning author, editor, and tie-in writer. She is the author of Never Let Me Sleep, and The Last Days of Salton Academy, both of which were finalists for the Bram Stoker Award. Her BattleTech tie-in novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, won a Scribe Award. Her editing work has netted her a Hugo Award nomination as well as an Australian Shadows Award for Grants Pass. Jennifer’s short form work has appeared in Apex Publications, and in anthologies set in the worlds of Valdemar, Elemental Masters, Shadowrun, V-Wars, and Predator. She has written tie-in novellas for Shadowrun, DocWagon 19, and Arkham Horror, To Fight the Black Wind.
Jennifer has been a freelance publishing professional for over ten years after leaving her high paying tech job, and she’s never been happier. She keeps a tight schedule on her writing and editing projects and somehow manages to find time to volunteer for several professional writing organizations such as SFWA, HWA, and IAMTW as well as play ARG games like PokemonGO and Ingress. She shares her husband, Jeff, with several cats and often uses him as a sounding board for her story ideas. Visit Jennifer’s worlds at jenniferbrozek.com.
Some of Jennifer's works are available at the links below: