Raymond Benson Interview



With the release of HITMAN: DAMNATION, we decided to ask author Raymond Benson a few questions about his writing process. Check it out, and let us know what you think in the comments.

1.      What was the biggest challenge in writing HITMAN: DAMNATION? What about the biggest reward?

Whenever one tackles a novelization of a best-selling franchise, whether it’s a videogame, movie or TV show, or whatever, the biggest challenges are a) pleasing the license holders, and b) pleasing the fans.  To do that, one must become very familiar with the franchise and feel confident that you actually *can* spend a few months in that world and create something original and yet familiar to those who expect certain things.  There is a group of authors who specialize in tie-ins and we belong to the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (www.iamtw.org).  It’s been our jobs to be the best there is at doing tie-in work, so I take it very seriously.  The biggest reward is when you succeed, of course.  I have found, though, that fans of huge franchises are very opinionated and diverse when it comes to accepting new work about “their” character (they feel like they own it!).  You can’t please everyone, so you do the best you can, and you try to be as faithful as possible to the subject.  I’m confident that I’ve done that with HITMAN: DAMNATION.

2.      HITMAN: DAMNATION affords readers the chance to get inside the head of a brutal assassin, Agent 47. Will they be surprised about what they’ll find?

One thing about Agent 47 that you notice when playing the games is that he’s not a big talker.  He shows no emotion.  You never know what he’s thinking.  The toughest challenge in writing a novel about him is to bring his character to life.  He obviously does have an inner monologue going on because he’s a human being, we just never hear it in the games.  I brought that out in HITMAN: DAMNATION by writing much of the book in first person from 47’s point of view.  Thus, I believe we’ve presented more of a believable flesh-and-blood person.  Fans will for the first time know what 47 thinks about.  How does he feel about his job, about the act of killing, about women, about himself?  I thought it would be interesting to explore these things.

3.      You’ve written a number of tie-in novels in the past, in properties from James Bond to Metal Gear Solid to Splinter Cell. Were you able to draw on your past experiences when writing about the adventures of Agent 47?

I believe with every novel I write, the experience of all my previous work goes into it.  Usually with tie-ins, there is a very quick turnaround required.  Sometimes you have as little as two months to research and write the whole book.  I’ve learned how to streamline the process and do a professional job in a small amount of time.  I always outline a book first, and usually that’s required by the license holder anyway (I do it for my own original novels, too).  That gives me a roadmap to follow when I’m doing the actual writing.  It’s extremely helpful.

4.      What kind of research do you do to prepare for writing game tie-in novels?

The first thing to do is to become familiar with the videogame.  I was once in the gaming business as a writer/designer for a decade, so I’m well acquainted with that world.  While I’m not the avid gamer I once was (I just don’t have the time!) I still like games and keep up with what’s current.  I was familiar with the Hitman franchise but had never played one of the games, so for a couple of weeks I immersed myself in the games and learned everything I could about what had already been done in the canon.  The rest was then coming up with a new scenario that could lead into the plotline of the next videogame, “Hitman: Absolution,” but also satisfy my own desire to dig deeper into 47’s character and explore what makes him tick.

5.      What is your process for writing when you’re under deadline? Do you write every day? For how long?

I do write every day.  My main rule of thumb, after the outline is completed and approved, is to write a full scene a day (scene = beginning, middle end).  That scene might be a full chapter.  It might be 25 pages long, it might be only 2.  Whatever, I feel that if I complete a scene each day, then I’m accomplishing something.  I’ve always equated novel writing with building those gigantic jigsaw puzzles with over 1000 pieces.  You start small and slowly add pieces to it until you have the complete picture.  I *build* a novel.  That said, I do believe that if you write more than, say, 5 hours at a time, you start to lose it.  You need to step away.  A writer can’t go to work at 8am, take a lunch break from 12 to 1, and then continue until 5pm.  At least I can’t.  It’s not the way writing works.  An “hourly rate” doesn’t apply to writers.