When we last left off, I was staring at a botched narrative and another major rewrite. (If you need to, refresh yourself here.)
And so I did. In early April I began once more from the beginning. I salvaged a decent bit of the last attempt, forming several long-form sidebars that retained their own voice and brought some color to the narrative. By and large, if you read a section and wondered if there was more to that nugget, there would be a sidebar nearby that obliged.
This attempt, my third, was much smoother. By the end of the month, I had racked up all of chapter four (about 23K) and half of chapter 5 (at the time, about 10K). Chapter 10, the rules, had already gone through initial playtesting and then on to Paul, who filled in additional fluff based on cryptic conversations with me.
At this point, another tangent: the timeline. The foundation of this document was the various Clan information we’d stuck into the Master Jihad timeline, a document that, at last count, had nearly 140 pages. It included various data and plot points I’d gotten approved over the last few years; stripping anything Clan-related from that master gave me my own Reaving timeline. From there, I began to modify as needed, marking entries that were unchangeable due to already being published. The rest was up for play, including several entries Herb and I had tagged a few years back as “apocryphal” because they were data points meant to connect to the vague direction WizKids had given us. With WK no longer in the picture, I tossed a few, modified others, and kept the rest.
I knew that as I wrote the book-now called “The Wars of Reaving” due to the insane amount of combat violence scattered through these fifteen years-I would craft more data to make the story more interesting. You just can’t plot out every last detail in a timeline; some of it flows from the storytelling process. So I did not share my timeline-in-progress with any of the other writers (save Herb, Randall, and Paul) because they wouldn’t need it. I monitored the few Clan stuff being done (such as TRO:3085) to make sure no contradictions developed, but by and large played it close to my vest.
This did cause a problem in one aspect: the canon games for Origins and GenCon. Because of my initial planning, I thought I would have the bulk of the book completed by the turn of the year, which is when Mike “Southpaw” Miller would need information on the games. Because I wasn’t constructing the games as I had in the relative past, Mike would use his stellar crew to come up with the details; all he needed was the conflict and opponents.
Well, by January with hardly any of the book sketched out past 3072, that was a difficult problem. Because of the way I write – creating on the fly – I didn’t feel completely comfortable doing that. But I knew they needed time, and a lot of it since the canon games take months of effort to properly design (I should know). So I zipped through the timeline, found several possible scenario settings, and gave them to Mike. If they ended up not meshing, well, that’s the way it would be. The games wouldn’t have any effect on the book at this point.
The greatest side effect of keeping the timeline from the rest of the stable was the surprise factor. The fewer people knew, the less they could leak. We have, to no one’s surprise, a few writers who like to what I call “over-hint” stuff. (Hey, I’ve done it, too.) This wasn’t a Blake Documents project – people knew that WOR would be published at some point – but I really wanted these details kept under wraps. (For those who don’t get the reference, back in 2009 a select core of writers slammed together Jihad Secrets: Blake Documents in roughly two months, dropping the entire book at GenCon. We’d kept the entire project secret – under threat of firing – so that we could pull off the surprise. No one expected it or saw it coming.)
It’s partially because over the last decade, BattleTech has been effectively “spoiled” because of the advanced Dark Age plotline. Everyone’s gotten used to where the story’s at because they know where it’s going. In the universe’s heyday, part of the allure of the setting was discovering the stories and plots through the novels. You didn’t know what was coming.
I call this the “ComStar Victor” effect.
It’s a term I coined personally – I’ve never used it outside my own notes and writing – because it encapsulates one moment in time of my BattleTech experience through these last 27 years. At the end of Prince of Havoc, there is a very tense scene where it looks as if Katherine Steiner is about to be elected First Lord of the Second Star League, completing her rampage to power. In a moment that caught me off guard, Victor reveals himself as both the new Precentor Martial, and takes his tie-breaking vote and cuts his sister’s grab for power off at the knees.
That moment-which occurred for me at around 2 a.m. in the morning because I simply had to finish the book-was the “ComStar Victor” moment.
WOR gave us the opportunity to bring that back.
(I’ll go more into the whole “marketing” angle of the book in a future post.)
Okay, back to the writing process…
About mid-April I was deep into writing Chapter 5 when I sketched out a plot string; I do this periodically so I can keep it in mind as I work a different angle and come back later. And suddenly realized, when flipping through one of our latest product PDFs, that I’d missed something that had gone into said publication. Because it was now “out there” and mine was “in progress,” I had to adjust.
The problem was…it completely threw a major wrench into what I’d been writing between chapters 4 and 5. (The item in question was that Horse Loremaster Amirault was apparently alive in 3084…and I’d structured a detailed plot centered around him, with his death the catalyst for a big change in chapter 9.) And so, YET ANOTHER rewrite. Not as extensive as the last one, but when pulling out a busted plot, it tends to create collateral damage. And took more time. Which, at least for the next week or so, I thought I had enough of.
And then came that phone call…
(To be continued…)