So what does it take to be a freelance writer in the gaming industry? Drive. Plus a deep love and commitment to the game in question. Beginning writers and creative BFA/MFA graduates often agonize over a few hundred words at a time, unsuspecting that what it takes to succeed as a freelance writer often requires the production of tens of thousands of words at a shot, often in a ridiculously short window. Shawn Carman has produced vast quantities of game text, short fiction, continuing story lines, game rules, adventure scenarios, and more, with a cumulative word count into the multiple millions of words. He is well known in the RPG community as the guy driving the story and writing the books for Alderac Entertainment’s Legend of the Five Rings universe, a fusion of Asian mythology, history, and fantasy. The collectible card game and roleplaying game set in the L5R universe represent some of the longest running successes in the gaming industry, and Shawn has been contributing to its success for almost ten years.
SC: I started writing material for my own RPG campaigns during high school and early college. In college I started submitting ideas to West End Games and Alderac Entertainment Group. My real goal was just to get published so that I could write for WEG’s Star Wars Adventure Journal (they only accepted published authors, you understand). I got a gig for the Legend of the Five Rings Role-playing game in 1999 (I think), and have been working on it ever since. I was added on as a contracted writer in 2001 and became head writer in 2005. I’ve worked a little for WEG and Green Ronin as well, and next month (crosses fingers) the first Graphic Novel I’ve ever written will be out as well.
TH: How much content have you produced for the gaming industry?
SC: I used to keep track of word count but it got a little ridiculous. I think I passed the million mark some years ago, though. It depends on whether you count the fiction we put out for the website or not, really. But I’ve worked on… something like fifty or sixty books at this point, plus all the online stuff.
TH: What drew you to L5R?
SC: Well the cover of the first edition RPG rulebook was very striking. I picked it up and read through it, and it wasn’t like anything I’d ever read before. I knew I had to buy one and read it cover to cover. Once I did that, I knew I had to convince my crew to play it with me. Once I did THAT, I knew I had to submit some ideas to see if I could write for them. And it went on like that indefinitely to the present day.
TH: What can you dish about the graphic novel?
SC: I can’t reveal very much other than that it reveals death of Hida Kisada and the events that come as a result thereof. I don’t know where the images are hosted, per se, but Todd [the L5R brand manager] has revealed a number of previews here:
TH: What is The Story of Shawn? Is it a novel? A haiku? An epic of pseudo-Asian fantasy?
SC: Probably a very smarmy and/or sarcastic anecdote that no one but me thinks is funny. 😉
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?Â How did you know?
SC: I actually have no idea when I decided to start writing! I think I just did so much work on my home Star Wars games that I wanted to share it with other people and see what they thought. If the Internet had been big back then I might not ever have pursued being published. Obviously I’m glad it worked out this way, though.
TH: Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
SC: [W]ith the Graphic Novel I’m realizing one of my big dreams. I’d like to write a regular novel as well, but that’s probably a little farther off.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
SC: I find inspiration almost anywhere. I love stories, whether in books, movies, TV… anywhere. I’m fascinated by plots and characters, regardless of where they appear.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you?
SC: I guess I would say that I enjoy the solitude of sitting in a quiet office, putting my thoughts down on (e-)paper and seeing how things unfold.
TH: Have you reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
SC: I haven’t reached that point. I’m always fearful that my career at AEG will come to an end one day and that will be the end of it. The gaming industry is very close-knit, and there have not been a tremendous number of chances for me to expand my network to other companies, so I often think that my fate as a writer is inextricably tied to L5R. I certainly don’t have a problem with that right now, but it could be trouble one day down the line.
TH: If your L5R’s long run faded away tomorrow, what then? Would you keep writing, and if so, what?
SC: I would absolutely keep writing, yes. I don’t think I would be able to stop. When I’m running an RPG for my local crew, I write reams and reams of information that they never even see, just because I can’t help myself.
What would I do professionally? Well, I have a day job, but I would keep looking until I found something I could do in the evenings that let me write. I would love to do some children’s books one day.
TH: Do you have plans to move more into fiction in the future?
SC: I’d like to do some non-L5R work, but frankly this is what I’m best at right now so I’m just going to keep plugging away at it until I find myself with some unstructured free time. 😉
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity.Â Do you take that approach?
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future?Â What are you working on?
SC: I’m currently working on a number of projects that, sadly, I am not at liberty to discuss. It’s like working for the state department! But I do have a new RPG sourcebook coming out at GenCon that I’m really pleased with. The Vacant Throne, which is the coolest title we’ve published in years, if you ask me!
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
SC: Probably when I got the first copies of my fiction in print, in the little short story anthology that was handed out at the Kotei season tournaments last year. That was pretty wild.