Writing Illidan Part Three

It was time to set about outlining Illidan. I knew who the main point of view characters of the book were going to be. The story of the Burning Crusade and Black Temple pretty much dictated three of them: Illidan, Maiev and Akama. The Demon Hunter Vandel was in the briefing document I got from Blizzard. Since this novel was going to tie into Legion and show us something about demon hunters, he was going to play quite a big part. Before I set out to write the outline I needed to think about the characters since a lot of the action would flow from them.

I needed to make some decisions. How much space was each going to get in the book? Which was the best point of view to use for the various events? How was I going to show their history and relationships with each other. More to the point, what did I want to show about each of them? What was their role? How do they interact? Who were they?

Illidan was the easiest to deal with. His name was on the title. He was the central figure around which everything revolved. He is a towering charismatic figure. To me, he’s not really a hero, although I know many people disagree. He’s more complicated than that. He’s a very bad person trying to do an awesomely heroic thing. He is driven, domineering, sardonic, and his own worst enemy. He’s the smartest man (ok elf) in the room and he knows it. He has no time for fools. He is lonely, thwarted in love, far too proud for his own good. Above all he has a mission and he is going to complete it. No matter what the cost to himself or anyone else. In some ways what destroys Illidan, his tragic flaw is hubris. He is too proud, too confident and too self-reliant. It brings him down in the end. He is also ambiguous. To most of the world he looks like a villain, a traitor that has betrayed his entire world to the forces of destruction.

Maiev is in some ways Illidan’a mirror image— a driven hunter with an over-riding purpose, which is to bring Illidan to justice. The irony of her position is that she has much more in common with him than the people she serves and protects. She too has given her life to a mission. In her case, imprisoning Illidan and now bringing him to justice. In the book, she was going to be our window into the world which Illidan has come from, and the one that sees him as a villain, quite correctly by their lights. She too is a charismatic leader, fighting a battle against overwhelming odds.

Akama always seemed to me an interesting character. He engineers Illidan’s downfall for what he sees as the best of reasons. He is a mighty spiritual leader of his people but he is kinder and gentler than Illidan or Maiev. He has a kind of ruined decency to him. He also mirrors Illidan from a different angle. He is forced to treachery and wickedness in the service of a cause he believes to be good.

Vandel was the easiest in some ways, the hardest in others. During the original discussions of Demon Hunters in Irvine it was made clear he would need to be either a Night Elf or a Blood Elf. I chose Night Elf, not just because my original main character was one, but because it was the background that would show the depth of the transformation he is to undergo in the strongest possible way. Blood Elves already had a tainted slightly corrupt nature that put them further along the dark path a demon hunter must follow. Making him a Night Elf would give him the furthest distance to travel and make the ordeal he was to endure all the more shocking to him and the reader.

As all of this thinking was going on I was also trying to look at things from a technical point of view.

The reader was going to have to spend some time in Illidan’s head, getting to know him. The idea was slowly to shift the reader’s perception from seeing him as an ambitious villain to something more heroic. One problem in doing scenes in this way, is a very basic one for a writer. Illidan is smarter than I am. A lot smarter.

Showing the mental processes of someone cleverer than you is always difficult. There are some tricks, of course. A very smart character can figure out solutions to complex problems that it would take me hours to solve (if I could solve them at all) in moments. All you need is the solution and you can show the lightning fast mental processes at work.

The other main trick is to show him from the outside, from the point of view of people closer to my own mental level. Both Akama and Vandel would be useful for this. They would have a lot of scenes with Illidan, and they both had ambiguous relationships with him. These would allow us to see both them and Illidan. Akama and Vandel provide foils for Illidan that let us see him as his own followers see him.

Maiev would tell us a lot about Illidan simply by the relentless nature of her pursuit. You can judge characters by the potency of their foes, and she was a very potent one.

By the time I finished writing my character sketches I had a pretty good idea of the people I was going to be dealing with. I needed to find some way of fitting their stories together. It was time to deal with the outline proper. Of which, more next time.

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Writing Illidan Part Two

So there I was back in Europe, trying to figure out how to proceed. I had a long document full of ideas from the folks at Blizzard and the somewhat confused and incoherent notes I had taken myself in Irvine. Now all I had to do was make a book out of them, and with a fairly tight deadline too.

My first stop was to read through the Blizzard notes. These gave an outline of the story, its themes and the marks I was going to have to hit. I had never really dealt with anything like this before. My previous tie-in works consisted of coming up with characters and/or storylines and getting them approved.

The outline I had been given was dramatic, and I was familiar with large chunks of the story. Most Blizzard fans would be. It was the tale of Illidan from Warcraft 3 and Burning Crusade very cleverly reworked to stand what people thought they knew about the lore on its head. Without changing any of the details of the story, it changed everything about my understanding of what had happened during BC.

Running inside the main narrative was a new one, detailing the recruitment, training and eventual fate of a Demon Hunter. This was exciting. In game terms, it was a whole new class, and as a player, I was thrilled to have some input here and to get a sneak preview of what was to come. There was a problem, though— the details of the class were not set yet, so I was going to have to go ahead with many specific details about the class and trust that they would be filled in as I went along.

In addition, there was a truly unique problem in my experience as a tie-in writer. I had actually been present at many of the events described in the outline, in some cases many times. In the case of Black Temple, I had seen it from both Alliance and Horde sides. This raised some questions.

I had to make a decision about what to cut and what to keep in. You could write a book just about the Black Temple Raid itself— which given everything else that was going on was not an option. I also had to find points of view and key scenes that would make it clear to the reader what was going on, and I could not assume that any reader of the book would necessarily be familiar with the raid itself.

The second question was a doozy. This novel would be part of continuity. How in the name of the Betrayer was I going to show something that hundreds of thousands of people had been part of, myself included, and not invalidate their experience?

I could hardly hand out definitive laurels for the victory at Black Temple to either the Alliance or the Horde. In the end, I chose to fudge it. Most of the scenes in Black Temple are shown from the point of view of people who have no real reason to know anything about the player characters they encounter. Thus I did not have to give too much detail.

I decided I needed to go back and take a look at the raids, just to remind myself of the details. So recruiting my eldest son’s Shaman and my own Rogue, I headed back to Outland and plunged into the heart of the Burning Crusade.

It was an interesting experiment in nostalgia, wandering through Magtheridon’s Lair, Black Temple and Tempest Keep with my level 100 and a personal healer. I only had to give many mobs a hard stare, and they died. The aggro distances were so low I virtually had to hit them to get noticed. It felt as if all these elite monsters were whistling to themselves and pretending not to see us. It was not like this during the Burning Crusade. Still I got to revisit a lot of fun places, and it was a lot less stressful this time around. I even took screenshots, like a demented tourist clicking away amid the ancient ruins of Outland. I imported them all into a Scrivener file for future reference.

I requested and got the soundtrack of the Burning Crusade from the good people at Blizzard, imported it onto iTunes, set it on a loop and got to work on my outline. Of which more next time.

And here are some more snaps from my trip to Irvine. That trike actually works, you know.

I am going to be on the road for the next few days so comments will be moderated and replied to even more slowly than usual. They will be read and responded to though! No pics this week either since the terrible hotel internet I am using keeps giving me a server timed out message when I try to upload them.

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Cover Reveal: Sword of Wrath

Here’s the cover for the next Kormak novel Sword of Wrath.

Clarissa Yeo over at Yocla Designs has really outdone herself with this one. I’m really pleased with it. The book itself is still a couple of weeks away. I’ll be writing more about it nearer the time.

K8 Sword of Wrath Cover

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Sweet Sixteen

So yesterday I hit 16 posts this month, precisely twice as many as I managed in all of last year. I’m going to give myself a hearty pat on the back for that. I’ll also confess I am a bit stuck for something to write about today so I am just going to talk about recent developments in my writing and travel plans. Bear with me, I am new to this daily blogging thing.

I was very surprised to discover my military SF novel seems to have taken on a life of its own. I sat down to write a few scenes, just sketches to see whether it would work and to try and get the feel of the thing. Before I knew it I had written 15000 words, laughing maniacally all the while. Believe it or not, this is usually a good sign for me although it troubles my wife and anybody else who happens to be in the vicinity.

Robert E Howard used to say that he felt as if Conan was standing at his shoulder dictating his adventures. I know the feeling. So it looks like there will be a cyberpunk space opera supersoldier novel from me in the not too distant future.

This week I am hoping to put the final touches on the latest Kormak short story, a tale of drunken sea-going giants and a demon sorcerer’s palace rising from the ocean floor. I’m also going to have to think of a title for it. So far that’s been the hardest part of the whole process. Since I settled down to finish it, this story has been a blast to write. As you’d guess about a story featuring inebriated giants, it’s a bit less grim than the usual Kormak story, with more of the feel of the early Gotrek and Felix adventures.

Earlier in the week I picked up a ticket to Ho Chi Minh City. I am off late next month. (I would say I am going to escape the snow but it all melted over the weekend.) It’s only for 10 days but it should be interesting. I did a two day trip to California for discussions about Illidan this time last year, so this counts as a long trip by my recent standards. I’ll post pictures here with a view to making all of you stuck in the European winter jealous. I’m nice that way.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print from me this week. Hopefully tomorrow there will be something a bit more coherent.

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Improving Writing Workflows

I changed my workflow a lot this year. The most important alteration was that I started using markdown as much as possible. I’ve talked about the advantages before so I won’t go into them again here. I’ll just say that I love the way I can work anywhere on anything when I am using it.

I am using Scrivener less. I know, I know– me saying that is one of the signs of the End Times. In the past I used Scrivener for pretty much everything I could. But all is flux as Heraclitus once said.

My workflow is now broken into five stages mostly defined by the program and text format that I use for them.

The first stage is outlining which I do in markdown.

The second stage is writing the first draft which is also done in markdown.

The third stage is revision. If only light revisions are necessary then I make these in markdown. If scenes need to moving around for a major structural edit then I import the file into Scrivener. In Scrivener I can still write in markdown. It is set up for it.

The fourth stage is editing. This is where the files get transferred to Microsoft Word for my test readers and editors.

The final stage for e-book that I happened to be publishing myself is to load the file into Scrivener for production.

When streamlining my revision process I discovered the advantages of using a checklist such as Folding Text. I found that I liked having a separate outline to the one inside Scrivener.

I used to write a synopsis and then transfer my scene by scene descriptions into the index card window in Scrivener. One side-effect of this was that I sometimes found it difficult to get a broad overview of my story. One limit of using the index card method is that you can only put a small number of words on them – at least if you have eyesight like mine. This can be an advantage when you’re sketching out the broad outlines of the story. It becomes a restriction when you need to see more detail.

One way around this was to put a brief description on the index card then put the rest of the information in the documents window. This meant that you could see everything but only when you were looking at that specific document. These days I prefer to keep my synopsis, character descriptions and scene by scene outline in a separate document. This lets me check everything at a glance. Since that document is in plain text, I can access it from pretty much anywhere.

One thing that has not changed has been my reliance on Dropbox. I jump around from computer to computer and operating system to operating system a lot. Syncing between the Windows and OSX versions of Scrivener via Dropbox can be problematical. Files can get corrupted. The problem probably occurred because I did not wait for the file on one computer to finish syncing before opening it on another. It happened often enough for me to be wary of doing this. I don’t like losing work.

These days I have a separate folder in Dropbox for every type of project that I am working on. I have one folder for novels, one for short stories, one for blog posts, one for interviews and so on. I have one folder for outlines as well. Everything that goes into these folders is stored in markdown. I can access these files anywhere, even on my phone.

I try and keep revisions to a minimum during the first draft stage, because I never know what I am going to chop out. Doing a lot of heavy editing on a scene that later gets dropped can waste a lot of time. I prefer to wait until I have a working final draft before polishing things.

I write my first drafts in markdown text processors. On Windows my favourite of these is WriteMonkey. On my Mac I use is Ulysses. Both these programs have excellent export capabilities. They are the only markdown-capable wordprocessors I know of that can export Microsoft Word styles properly.

Most programs seem to spray on header styles locally. They change the appearance of specific paragraphs to give the illusion of coherent styles. They do not insert actual styles such as header one or header two. Ulysses and WriteMonkey can give perfectly formatted Microsoft Word documents if I need them.

I only switch to Microsoft Word when I need to send a document to an editor or to my test readers. Even then I use markdown formatting inside the manuscript instead of local style formatting. The reason I do this is that sometimes Microsoft Word adds many strange and corrupt codes to my text during the editing process. At the end of the editing process if I need clean code all I have to do is save the file as a text file. All of my chapter headings, scene headings, italics and bolds will be preserved.

I use Scrivener either for heavy structural editing or for final production of my indie ebooks. The program does a brilliant job of importing markdown files. It stores them all in one folder and breaks them into scenes based on the header type. It has a compile setting that automagically translates markdown into the correct formatting for the final output version.

When it comes to e-book production I still find Scrivener the way to go. Not only does it produce Kindle and EPUB formats easily, I now have it set up so that it can produce PDF files for CreateSpace books.

Using this system I get all the advantages of Microsoft Word and Scrivener. And I get to keep my files universally accessible for as long as possible. This has been the biggest change to the way I work in years and I just wanted to share it.

Invisible Software

For the past couple of weeks I have been living in a strange alternative universe where proprietary formatting for applications never happened. I have been storing my to do list on my phone and editing it in my word-processor on both Windows and OSX. My phone happens to run Android but I could just as easily be doing this on an iPhone. I’ve been taking notes on my phone when out in the playground with the baby and been able to edit them in my word processor, add them to my Evernote stack and/or do whatever else I want with them. I’ve been writing blog posts that I can send directly from my word processor to this blog knowing they will format correctly. I’ve been running my project management software everywhere.

I’ve been doing all of this courtesy of working in plain text/markdown files and it really has been a wonderful experience. For someone like me, who works on a variety of operating systems and a number of strange devices, including an Alphasmart Dana, markdown has been a real boon. Using an open standard (and it does not get more open than plain text) means I can use anything I want, any time I want, anywhere I want. If I feel like editing my work in progress on my phone (don’t laugh it occasionally happens) I can. What it means is that the software I use becomes effectively invisible. It gets out of my way.

I’ve been working on Byword on the Mac and the extremely wonderful WriteMonkey on my Windows machines for word processing. I’ve been using todo.txt for my to do lists and Taskpaper for my project management/ Getting Things Done Stuff. It all works together extremely well.

It was what I was going to write about today, but when I came to think about it, there’s another sort of invisible software that holds everything together. Dropbox. When I stopped to consider it, I was amazed at how stealthily and completely this program has infiltrated my life.

For those of you who have not encountered it, Dropbox is an extremely simple looking idea, extremely well executed. It is a folder that sits on your desktop and when you put something into it, it gets stored in the cloud on Dropbox’s servers and from there is synchronised with the files on any other machine you happen to have Dropbox installed it. I’ve been using it for years and it works really well. It even stores versioned backups of your recent files, so if you accidentally overwrite something you can go back and retrieve what you wiped.

Dropbox is where my ToDo.txt file lives and my markdown drafts and blogposts and even the Scrivener files for my big writing projects. It’s useful in that not only does it provide an effortless method of synchronising my data between machines, it gives me an off-site backup for my work. (I also use Google Drive, Amazon’s S3 cloud and OneDrive for this as well as a USB stick and Time Machine backup– I know it sounds paranoid but I lost a bit of work once and I never intend to have it happen again.)

Recently Dropbox has allowed me to automatically back up the photographs from my phone’s camera onto my computer. It happens invisibly in the background while I am doing other stuff. I am experimenting with using the speech recorder on my phone to take dictation. Dropbox makes transferring the dictation files from my Galaxy to DragonDictate 4 on the Mac an absolute breeze. I just save the file in Dropbox and, boom, it’s there on my computer ready to import into Dragon when I want. This is the way that software should work. It should just get out of your way and let you do stuff.

I think Dropbox is in many ways the wave of the future, capitalising on the Cloud’s strengths. It’s not something you really notice because you don’t work in it the way you do with a program like Scrivener or Microsoft Word, but it has definitely changed the way I work and I imagine it will continue to do so.

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