Star Wars and More: An Interview with Author Drew Karpyshyn

In my review of Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan, I talked about how impressed I was by author Drew Karpyshyn’s ability to craft a main character that was completely undefined, and yet known to thousands of fans. So I figured what better way to gain a little more insight into the process then by asking the man himself.

Aside from Revan, Drew and I discussed writing in the Old Republic setting, how he views writing for video games, his plans for future writing projects and what he would do if George Lucas asked him to write Episode 7 (this needs to happen for many many many reasons).

Castles and Cooks (CnC): All of your Star Wars novels and game work has been in the Old Republic setting. Does that setting attract you for any reason?

Drew Karpyshyn: One of the things I love about the Old Republic setting is the sense of creative freedom that comes with it. Being many centuries removed from the events of the films means we are able to have characters and events that don’t have to be directly connected to the movies; we get to create our own heroes and villains and tell their stories. At the same time, we get to help create the foundation of what is to come later. We know what direction galactic events are heading towards, we know what watershed moments and characters will shape the ultimate destiny of the Republic, so we can use that to plant the seeds of the future in our Old Republic tales. It feels like the best of both worlds.

CnC: With Revan, you were really going to be establishing the character for the first time. All of the personality, inflection ,mannerisms – the real soul of the character had been created by thousands of gamers. How hard was it to craft the canon of a character that existed in thousands of different permutations? What influences did you drawn on and what was your process like? The same was true, though to a lesser extent, for the character of the Exile.

Karpyshyn: Obviously tackling a character as beloved yet undefined, as Revan or the Exile is an incredible challenge. It would be impossible to create a version of Revan or the Exile that felt “right” to every gamer, so instead of going down that road I had to work with the version of each character that I felt worked best with previously established canon for their respective stories story. Using that as a foundation I was able to mold and shape Revan and the Exile as they appeared in the novel into what I felt were interesting and compelling characters that embodied the spirit of the original games.

CnC: Did you actually play KOTOR? What was your Revan like in the game?

Drew Karpyshyn: I played KOTOR many, many times during the development of the game. By the time the final version was released I had played every class/gender/light-dark combination possible multiple times in my role as lead writer. I also had to play the game in bits and pieces, often replaying sections after we had rewritten them, or playing through parts of the game multiple times in a row to test each dialog response to make sure everything worked properly. As a result, I didn’t have a clear memory of my “preferred” version of Revan – all the different ways I played sort of blended together. However, I think that was a good thing – it allowed me to approach the novel without a heavy bias towards a particular archetype from the game.

CnC: While working on Bane series you said you were surprised by “some of the things they let you get away with.” What kind of stuff were you referring to?

Drew Karpyshyn: I thought I pushed the levels of violence far beyond what would be approved, particularly at the end of Rule of Two. I wasn’t sure a dismembered, eviscerated body would be an acceptable image in Star Wars, even when focusing on characters driven by the dark side. Fortunately the editors over at Random House/Del Rey and Lucas felt the events fit in with the story I was telling, so they didn’t ask me to tone anything down.

CnC: You’ve written for several different video games now (Baldur’s Gate, KOTOR and TOR). You’ve also written novels in the Mass Effect universe. What are the advantages and challenges of writing for video games?

Drew Karpyshyn: Video games are a very different format than games, especially BioWare style games with branching, cinematic-style dialog. Obviously having multiple choices for players that change the way the dialog flows means we have to create multiple versions of every conversation. It’s a balance to maintain control of the dialog, yet still allow players to make the choices they want to make. You also have to be aware that there is going to be a much stronger visual component to the games – you have digital actors and talented voice actors bringing their performance to the conversation, so you have to be careful not to “overwrite” a scene – you need to give them enough freedom to project their own interpretation onto the characters.

CnC: Is there a Star Wars story (character, time period, location, etc.) that you haven’t told yet that you would like to?

Drew Karpyshyn: I’d love to explore Yoda’s past. Not much is known about the little guy, but I think there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. He’s almost 900 years old, he’s a Jedi Master and he has a deep understanding of the dark side that you wouldn’t get without treading down a few dangerous paths. (I don’t know if Mr. Lucas ever intends to open the door to Yoda’s past, but hopefully he’ll read this and keep me in mind just in case.) I’d also like to follow the chain of Sith Lords from Darth Zannah and Cognus all the way down to Plagueis. And I’m currently working on another Old Republic novel set just after the events of the SWTOR MMO, though I can’t say too much about it yet.

CnC: Can you tell us anything new about the status of your original fantasy trilogy, and the first book the Children of Fire?

Drew Karpyshyn: Currently the first book is 90% written – I’ve just got a few chapters to revise and it will be finished. The second book is fully planned out and just waiting for me to start writing, and the third book is planned out in a broad outline, but it still needs the details worked out. I don’t have a publisher or agent yet, because I want to complete the first book before I start shopping the trilogy around. I’m hoping to get the first book finished in summer of 2012, and if things go well it will hopefully hit shelves in 2013.

CnC: If you could have one super power, what would it be?

Drew Karpyshyn: Well, if it’s on the list I’d say the ability to stop time is hard to beat. You can do just about anything with that power if you use it right. But if you want to stay with more traditional stuff, I’d probably take invisibility. As a writer, it would be good to be an unobtrusive observer of the human condition.

CnC: What is your favorite food or drink while writing?

Drew Karpyshyn: I don’t eat while I’m writing; makes the keyboard too messy. But I drink caffeine free diet Pepsi. Lots and lots of caffeine free diet Pepsi. Sometimes if I’m feeling “healthy” I’ll drink ice water with a bit of lemon in it.

CnC: If George Lucas came to you and asked you to work on a screenplay or help with the story for Episode 7, what would your response be?

Drew Karpyshyn: I’d probably start by jumping up and down, clapping my hands and squealing like a schoolgirl at a Bieber concert. Then I’d say “yes, sir, Mr. Lucas, sir, thank you, sir.” Then I’d approach it like any other project, and in the end it would probably end up being the most dark and disturbing Star Wars film ever made.

Given his track record writing for Star Wars, I doubt I’m the only person who wouldn’t be excited by the prospects of Karpyshyn getting a shot at a Star Wars movie. Here’s to hoping GL gets on that sooner rather than later. I also really want to see that legacy of Sith lords novel become a reality. I guess what I’m saying is that Del Ray and Lucasarts should just make Karpyshyn sit in a room and write Star Wars books non-stop for the foreseeable future. Just makes sure to provide plenty of caffeine free diet Pepsi.

(photos from drewkarpyshyn.com)