Writing Illidan (Part One)

I meant to write this post when Illidan was launched a couple of weeks ago but illness, as so often has been the case in the last few months, got in the way. I’m finally getting round to it today. Better late than never!

I’ve been a Warcraft player since the very first Real Time Strategy Game and an enthusiastic World of Warcraft player for about nine years. When Sarah Peed from Del Rey got in touch early last year to ask if I was interested in writing a tie-in novel for Blizzard, I was intrigued, to say the least. When it was revealed that this was to be about Illidan, I could not refuse. I came into WoW at the height of the Burning Crusade, and the Betrayer has always been my favourite character. There have been periods of my life when I have put in more hours at WoW in a week than most people put into their full-time jobs. Now was my chance to explain to my long suffering wife that this was all *research*, no matter what it might have looked like at the time.

What happened next was a bit boggling. A meeting with Blizzard was suggested. Would I like to visit their campus in Irvine and discuss the project? Indeed, I would. My memory now becomes a montage of photographing NonDisclosure Agreements and emailing them, getting tickets, running through large airports to make tight connections and taking ages to make contact with the shuttle driver at LAX. It was a shock to the system going from cold Europe to sunny California, but I suspect my body could do with more shocks like that. That was Day One.

Day Two saw me in Blizzard’s offices talking with Sarah, James Waugh, Michael Bybee and a whole bunch of other people whose names I was too jetlagged to remember or write down. (My apologies to them all!) I was filled in on details of the project we now know as LEGION, told about Demon Hunters, discussed many aspects of the Burning Legion, and much more. This all has a hallucinatory quality to it now. I was zoning in and out due to jetlag but boy, was I excited. There was a lot of big dark cosmic stuff to come as the Burning Legion’s new masterplan unfolded, and a huge revamp of what we know about Illidan to be revealed. All this and Demon Hunters too! 

At the time, things were very much a work in progress on the gaming side. The Big Picture looked solid but thousands and thousands of smaller details needed to be tweaked and optimised. Mostly the meeting was about filling me in on what was going to be happening, asking me how I thought I would tackle it, discussing where we would go from here. I also got a chance to wander around the campus and have photo ops with some big names. (See the pictures below). 

Then it was time to load up with Blizzard merchandise— WoW plushies for the kids, reference books, a WoW 10th Anniversary bag and it was back on a plane to Europe. I was in the US just under 48 hours. The whole thing took on a hallucinatory did that really happen? tone and I had to figure out how to write the book. More on that next week. 

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I found this lying around in Blizzard’s offices. Wonder what it does, I thought, before going on a rampage. 


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And this is me picking a fight with someone I shouldn’t. Well, you know what Scotsmen are like.

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Here I am showing proper respect to Illidan himself. I have the feeling he is not too impressed judging by the expression on his face.

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10 Replies to “Writing Illidan (Part One)”

  1. Wow, this must have been quite the experience! I totally envy you! I already started reading Illidan, and I’m already enjoying it! If you don’t mind me asking, how is it to chip in in a lore so vast? I’m also curious about how strict guidelines did you have for the story and how much you managed to sway from the original path (at least a little bit!).

    1. It was great fun, Davide. The guidelines are very strict. I still managed to smuggle a few mistakes in. The main enemy for me was not what I didn’t know but what I thought I knew. 20 odd years of playing Warcraft games combined with an aging and faulty memory meant there was a lot of that. Turns out that what I thought I remembered from the quests I did during Burning Crusade was not terribly accurate.

      1. I played MMOs really a lot since 2008, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft and others. Sometimes I have memories of places I’ve been and things I’ve done from the time spent in those virtual worlds. It’s so strange if you think about it, real memories of places that only exists in bits and pixels. Still, they’re as rich of emotions as many memories from the real world. Strange age we live in.

        1. Totally agree. In terms of MMOs I have mostly played WoW, with brief diversions into Warhammer Online and Guild Wars 1/2. I have some pretty powerful memories from them all though. My eldest son and I do arenas and battlegrounds together nearly every Tuesday. I have even used that experience in my writing.

    1. Thanks, Alexander. The main difference was that I knew a lot more about Warhammer Elves because I wrote the original High Elf Army book way back in the day. I also knew a lot more about Tyrion and Teclis because I wrote their origin story.

  2. I have to be completely honest and say I was equal parts terrified and excited when I heard about the Illidan novel! Illidan is my favourite character of all time, so there was always that fear of having him shown as he was in TBC; which I knew in my heart was wrong!

    But William… You did him more than justice. I bet many fans like me were lamenting at the raid like ‘what are you DOING?!’ lol… And now I simply have no faction pride whatsoever – I will always be Illidari!

    So thank you (again, it was me who tweeted you at the beginning of April lol) for your fantastic work, and I really hope we get to see your name on more WoW books in the future! Totally jealous of your Blizzard tour too – especially seeing the statue! =D

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      First up apologies for the delay in replying. I usually try to spend the weekends with my family and away from the computer, so not much gets done around here on the weekends.

      Thanks for the kind words. Writing te Black Temple scenes was a very weird experience for me. This is the only novel I have ever written where I have been a participant in the events described (from both the Alliance and the Horde side as well no less). I even did the raid again a few times while writing the book. It presented a lot of challenges. I’ll probably be talking about it in my next post about writing Illidan.

      The visit to Irvine was awesome, as was the tour of the Blizzard campus. It was also pretty surreal– I was totally jetlagged and trying to take everything in.

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