From The Writers' Room Featuring Bookburners

Andrea Philips on writing Bookburners S3E3: “Hard Bargain”

I was a late addition to the Bookburners roster, and I mentioned in my first writer’s notes for Season 2 that it makes the experience feel a lot like writing fanfic for me. I’m just taking the pieces of story world that somebody else has created, and reassembling them in a new and hopefully interesting way. Except I also get to be canon!

Working in a sandbox that somebody else has built is also a large part of the work-for-hire I do in games and entertainment marketing, and I approach the practice with a kind of narrative thriftiness. The underlying philosophy is to reach first for story elements that are already on the page. Why go to all the trouble of making up new things when you can still get a little more life out of the old ones?

Hard Bargain provided a perfect vehicle for this kind of thrift; the episode if very much a stew built of things we’ve seen in Bookburners before, with a bit of freshness thrown in as seasoning. Our plan for the episode was to revisit the Market Arcanum and the Maitresse, who are now familiar to Bookburners readers. We particularly wanted to show how the past seasons’ events have had an effect on the magical community and its reception to the Bookburners.

As long as we were taking a quick look backwards, I thought I’d pull forward some of the other threads we’d left hanging and weave them back into the story. It’s just being efficient, right?

So this is how The Swede was born. (It’s always “The Swede” in my heart, he was only named in the last draft and I honestly can never remember what that name is, even now.) Season 1 hints (to me, at least) that Mr. Norse was not an entirely singular individual; that within the magic community, there is an existing aristocratic European establishment from which Mr. Norse arose. So I wondered: who are these other families? And what might their scions be like?

His bear, too, is springing directly from the homonculus that turns up in the pilot of Bookburners. We don’t often get an opportunity to revisit old monster types — honestly if we did, the show would start to feel tired and boring. But it seemed like the perfect moment to revisit a kind of magic the Bookburners would already be familiar with.

The observant reader will also notice that the market itself is full of familiar faces from prior seasons. But also any number of new ones, who may in turn become the focus of episodes in the future. Who can say?

Because that’s the other side of thrifty writing: on the one hand, you need to use the story threads you have, so they don’t go to waste. But just like a diligent farmer saving seeds for next year’s crops, serial writers also have to look to the future. And you may not know if you’ll ever need, say, “An old woman with leathery skin and a kente headwrap that writhed in upsettingly non-Euclidean angles.” But if it turns out you needed something like that, you’ll be really glad you thought to plant those seeds.

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