Writing Illidan Part Five


This is the fifth part in my series of blog posts about writing my World of Warcraft novel, Illidan. The earlier parts can be found here:

Writing Illidan Part One

Writing Illidan Part Two

Writing Illidan Part Three

Writing Illidan Part Four

So, after all the preparation, I set merrily to work. I wrote the first draft in Scrivener with the outline broken down into scenes in its index card window. Any additional information I needed was in the research folder. I kept all the artwork I had been given by Blizzard in that Scrivener file too along with all the screenshots I had taken during my research trips. In some scenes and chapters I kept pictures of the characters in Scrivener’s document notes window. It was singularly the largest Scrivener file I have ever used.

I wrote with the Burning Crusade soundtrack playing in the background to keep me in the mood. I paused every now and again to fly around Outland and remind myself of how it looked and felt. I would occasionally pay a visit to the Black Temple, once managing to get myself killed particularly stupidly in the process. Every week, Dan and I would venture into Azeroth and its environs for some PvP just to keep our hands in.

I wrote in the workspace in Prague and in a hotel room in London while I was traveling. I worked on a MacBook Pro or a Microsoft Surface. I was looking after my three-year-old son a couple of working days a week, so I worked on Saturdays to give me some extra time. I think it helped because the maximum length of time that went by between writing sessions was one day rather than a whole weekend.

I wrote, as I usually do, using the Pomodoro Technique. That is to say, I worked in 25 chunks, broken up with 5-minute breaks. Sometimes, for variety, I would write in ten-minute sprints. For me, single tasking in discrete chunks of time is the simplest and easiest route to productivity.

There’s not much to say about writing the first draft. I can’t remember another one that went quite as smoothly. I had promised to deliver the first draft manuscript in a couple of months. I was writing to a very tight deadline, but once the process got underway, much to my surprise, I did not feel a lot of pressure. I was having too much fun.

I liked the characters, and I enjoyed watching their interplay. It was a pleasure getting inside their thought processes.

Writing the book provided me with a whole new way of looking at Outland. World of Warcraft gives a brilliant sense of the look and sound of Azeroth and Outland but what does it feel and smell like? Is Zangarmarsh hot or cold? A Florida swamp or a cold North European one. I asked these questions of Sean and the other lore wizards in Irvine and got prompt answers back. (For the record, Zangarmarsh is hot.)

Questions about the story still needed to be answered and new bits of information about demon hunters and other things needed to be woven in as I went.

There were technical problems that needed to be solved, questions of time and distance. What were plausible lapses of time between events? Mostly though it was a case of following the outline and the characters as they improved on it or fought against it.

When I first started the book I had no idea of Vandel’s eventual fate. I knew everything would have to come to a head during the final climactic battles at Black Temple, but I had no idea exactly how things would be resolved with him.

I pushed on anyway carried by momentum, caffeine and the BC soundtrack. There were days when I wrote 7000 words. There were days when I wrote a lot less. I probably averaged about 3000 words per working day as I wrote. For those of you keeping count, that does mean I hacked some text out before it was finished the manuscript.

And then, one fine day, it was done. I exported the book from Scrivener onto PDF and went through it on Drawboard on the Surface Pro, marking things up with a pen.

At this stage, I was looking for inconsistencies, bits that needed cut, spelling mistakes, anything I could spot. This is not the easiest thing to do when you have just completed a draft, which is why I like to do it in a different format from the one I write in. Things look different in a PDF, and this can jog your brain and make you look at things afresh.

I used to do this on paper but these days its easier to edit on a tablet. Much less bulky to carry around with you as well. Which is important because I normally do my editing in a cafe or a bookstore or some place totally different from the place I wrote the first draft. I do this for the same reason as I do the editing in PDF. To trick my brain into looking at things afresh because it’s in a different environment.

There were the usual glitches that still needed editing, but in general, I thought it read well, and I was pleased with it. Then I sent it off to Del Rey, and the real work began.


Image copyright Blizzard. No challenge intended.

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Blizzcon 2015

I am just back from Blizzcon, brainstunned with jetlag, so this will probably be pretty incoherent. I was there to help promote Illidan, my upcoming World of Warcraft novel, due in March 2016. Number one son, Dan, came along. Having accompanied me through the depths of Black Temple and across the wastes of Outland while I was doing my research for the book, it seemed only right that he brave the depths of Anaheim Convention Center with me.

We flew into LAX on Wednesday evening and spent Thursday wandering around, locating the convention centre and basking in the blue skies and balmy climate. Disneyland was just round the corner from our hotel. Somehow we fought off the urge to spend $300 to visit the Lair of the Mouse Lord. In the evening we had a very pleasant dinner with Sarah, Keith and Joe from Del Rey.

Friday was the first day of the convention. We had exhibitor badges so we got in before the crowds. This meant we were just in time to witness the human tsunami of 25000 plus attendees rushing in when the doors opened. We went with the flow and found ourselves in excellent centre row seats for the Opening Ceremony.

During the course of this we saw the cinematic for Legacy of the Void, the trailer for the new World of Warcraft movie and the cast and director Duncan Jones live on stage. I had to leave for my first signing before we got to the World of Warcraft section. I was sorry to miss this.

The signings were great. Everyone was so enthusiastic. I was very jetlagged and thus even more inarticulate than usual. My right hand  felt compelled to write For the Horde instead of people’s names when it came to inscribing dedications. It just came naturally in the setting. Somehow I ended up on an artists panel at one point. I don’t think my stick figure Illidans were quite as impressive as the other people’s work but I did my best. Someone even recognised me as the model for Horus from Adrian Smith’s famous picture and introduced me to his wife as the Warmaster. That’s not something that happens every day.

The big thing for me were getting to try out the new Demon Hunter hero class in its starting zone. This was awesome. I am very much looking forward to getting to grips with the class for real when Legion goes live next year. As it was I spent a fair amount of time taking the war to the minions of Kil’jaeden.

Dan and I saw the Arena PvP semi-finals on Friday and the finals on Saturday. This was between two European sides, Skillcapped EU and SK Gaming. The two teams were perfectly matched and the battle went right to the wire. In the end SK Gaming won a well-deserved victory, while both sides were running on mana fumes.

The Anaheim arena was full of statues of familiar figures from all the Blizzard IPs. I trotted up to the Starcraft hall to pay my respects to the Queen of Blades. I attended to the WoW Designers panel—a lot of exciting stuff coming up there: artefact weapons, some interesting sounding class revamps and a whole new area to explore as the Burning Legion returns to Azeroth. I managed to get a brief glimpse of Overwatch which looks astonishing.

There was a lot going on and I didn’t get to see half of it. Mostly what remains are memories of the people—their enthusiasm and good cheer. It was a great weekend. Hopefully I will be back next year.