Writing Illidan Part Four

I had worked out what I wanted to say about the characters. Or at least I had a starting point for it. More always gets revealed as you write. Now I needed to start building a framework for the story.

Most of this was already there in the Blizzard briefing document, and in what I knew about Illidan’s life from Warcraft 3 and Burning Crusade.

Most WoW players know what happens at the end of the Black Temple raid and most of us know the events that lead up to it. We know that Akama betrays Illidan and Maiev is there at the end. Along the trail that leads to Black Temple, we find Maiev imprisoned.

In part plotting the book consisted of taking these events and asking how they happened. By implication, Akama must have met Maiev before Black Temple, and they must have some relationship. Maiev must have been captured at some point and so on. From this, I could spin back a chain of events leading up to Black Temple.

There was also all the new information I had been given in the briefing document and in Irvine. That needed to be woven into the framework as well. For Vandel, the demon hunter we needed to see his training and recruitment as well as his participation in Illidan’s mission. Vandel’s tale needed to dovetail with what we already knew about the lore and show certain well-known events from different angles.

This was the most difficult thing to plan for because I still did not know a lot about the demon hunters at this stage. In addition, huge events happen in the background that I could only hint at for fear of giving away to many spoilers. I pushed forward anyway, working all the stuff in that I could.

I already knew there were scenes I wanted to do. I wanted to show the first meeting of Akama and Maiev. I had it pretty clearly in my mind from the get-go. Akama is the only point of view character who sees both Maiev and Illidan close up. I wanted to contrast his personality with theirs. I wanted him to make some observations about both of them that would resonate through the book.

There was another scene I knew was going to be key. During the discussions in Irvine, I had talked with one of the developers. (Apologies to him since I cannot remember his name and give him the credit he deserves. My excuse is that I was extremely jet-lagged at the time.) He spoke with enormous passion describing the mission of the Burning Legion, and he conjured up a particularly Apocalyptic vision of what it was doing and why. He interlaced this with a very clever description of the cosmology of the Warcraft universe.

I knew communicating that vision was central to getting across what the Legion was about, and why Illidan was involved with it. I wanted to do it with as much force as I could muster since it was, in many ways, the heart of the book.

I also knew I was going to be writing about demon hunters, so I thought it would be a good idea to make that Apocalyptic vision central to their creation. In my mind, I had a clear picture of the ritual in which this vision would be transmitted.

Plotting then became a process of taking all the key scenes and putting them together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I needed to put in connecting sequences, buildups and bits of exposition. It was mostly done by working backward and asking what has to happen for this to happen? This gave me a timeline of events that needed to be dealt with.

There were some dead ends and false starts. In the original briefing document there were references to Quel’thas to Tempest Keep and other things. I decided that these were distractions from the main story, so I took them out. There was a fair amount of this. There was just so much I could put in from the lore. The trick was going to be leaving it out. 90000 words sounds like its a lot, but it is limited when it comes to shoehorning in so much good stuff.

I wrote a very basic outline in Scrivener, mostly scenes in chronological order. As I wrote things expanded from the bare bones of the ideas I had in my head. This is normal for me. What was not normal was that so much stuff just poured onto the page. Bits of business and dialogue just emerged almost as they would appear in the finished book.

Parts of my outline were mini-scenes in and of themselves. The thing took possession of me. By the time I had finished the outline I had written well over 16000 words, almost 20% of the length that the book was supposed to be. More than three times the length of the longest outlines I had written previously, and way longer than the normal outlines I use these days. Normally I do about a paragraph for each chapter.

I suspect this was a reaction to pressure, a coping mechanism. There was a lot riding on this book for me personally. I love WoW, particularly the BC era stuff, and I wanted to do it justice. Unlike with my previous work for hire projects, I was coming in late, not from a position of having been a developer. I think I was as much trying to reassure myself as the people at Blizzard and Del Rey that I could do this thing. By the time I had finished the detailed outline, I was convinced that I could write the book. As it turned out this very detailed outline was to cause me some problems. But that’s for next time.

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  1. This “Behind the scenes” blog series has sold me. I’ll order an e-copy after I finish reading my current book. I’ve never liked Illidan but you’ve gotten me to give him another chance.

    Thanks William. Once again you’ve parted me with my money and I think I will come out ahead on this trade, at least in enjoyment.

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