Continuing the colossal struggle that is the writing of Wars of Reaving… As always, catch up on all the other segments on the Wars of Reaving page on this website.
So the gauntlet was thrown; the challenge set. I now had two-thirds of a sourcebook to finish, and roughly six weeks to do it. I would need to average about 6,000 words a night, 7 days a week, in order to make it happen. Knowing that on a good night, I could slam home 5,000 words, it was a possibility but I knew that I may end up needing to cut a whole section to make the deadline. While it wouldn’t do, I could accept it. I had to; I have an intense need to maintain a solid work-life balance.
For the first couple of weeks, things rolled pretty smoothly. I continued to mesh my incomplete sections together, knitting Chapter 5 to 99% completion. By mid April, I had both Chapters 4 and 5 completed, though I needed to insert specific units and names. (Factoid: to save time on researching, which can derail momentum, I use a placeholder notation such as [CLUSTER] or [NAME], then return during my second review and fill in that information.) I then began a second read-through, looking for point of view and tense errors.
It was at this point that I realized I was missing one crucial resource; a complete listing of Clan units and commanders. Now, back in September 2010, I’d had our factcheckers compile a full list of Khans and Loremasters for each Clan, including any date notations of death or position change. I also had a detailed spreadsheet given to me by our resident Keeper of Strategy and Maps, Øystein. That spreadsheet had a list of the ‘dead’ Inner Sphere Clan units and WarShip lists, to assist in helping me sort out who got to survive and who got crushed in my developing story. (And as an aside, my continued apologies to Øystein for failing to fully adhere to his amazing resources; at times I either misread his entries or forgot to look them up, resulting in a few round-and-rounds to clear up lingering errors.) And all through this time, I had the author of Objectives:Clans and Field Report:Clans asking me for continued input, something I could not give until I had determined things myself.
See, while I had sketched out the plots and directions of each Clan, I did not do that for every single unit. That would be both mind-numbing and utterly useless. I’d mentioned before that I tend to follow a free-flow approach to writing BattleTech, and by not having those constraints really allowed me to focus on driving the story by using whatever came to mind or made sense as it developed. I’m continually amazed how some fans think we plot out the destinies of each individual unit (or even every single pilot – true story!) and then construct the main plot from that. It’s pure absurdity and the reality is that it’s the exact opposite.
At this point I had to halt and regroup. I printed off the massive TO&E list from Field Manual: Updates, made a full list of every Clan’s WarShip navy, and began my second pass once again. This time, I started to adjust my Clan rosters and, as needed, started to insert units in appropriate places. Not every hole got plugged at this point; I wanted my playtesters and factcheckers to have a little fun and left some slots ‘open.’
Once I’d passed through both chapters, they went to the PT/FT groups for their input. Normally, we upload everything all at once so that the entire book can be matched back and forth, but with this I wanted not just our standard error-checking, but also reactions. If the reactions to the budding plots were too negative (as in, “this isn’t possible due to their culture!” or whatnot), I wanted to be able to adjust with minimal disruption in the future sections.
So, an example of what the factcheckers got:
The Blood Spirit’s [CLUSTER] landed on Paxon on 20 December and declared a batchall for the Coyote’s newly-acquired [CLAN] enclave. Eager to add the [OMNIMECH] and [PROTOMECH] factories to their holdings, the Blood Spirits accepted the Coyote’s defensive bid along the [NAME] River Valley. The Coyotes fared poorly from the start, underestimating how effective the Spirits’ [CLUSTER] were in the rocky terrain. After losing almost half of their force in the first two hours, the Coyotes’ Forty-ninth Battle Cluster withdrew along the valley, coming close to the Diamond Shark city, [NAME]. The Blood Spirits, sensing victory, moved to cut the Coyote forces off and stumbled into a massed Shark civilian encampment. The temporary facilities, which were holding most of the Shark enclave’s lower castes for loading onto nearby DropShips, were quickly overrun and trampled before the Spirit ProtoMechs could extract themselves.
The Sharks, incensed by the wanton loss of civilian life [over 600 civilians were killed before the Spirits managed to withdraw –SK], launched a savage counterattack into the Blood Spirit line. However, the Shark’s repositioning of [CLUSTER] left their nearby [SITE] unprotected; it had been recently opened so the Clan could transport the material back to the Inner Sphere. Star Colonel [NAME] realized the opportunity before the Clan and quickly seized it, claiming it for the Coyotes—and to provide ready-made isorla to rebuild from the brutal losses sustained so far.
And then after a few of them gave me their feedback, I re-wrote it to this:
The Blood Spirits’ Scarlet Guards landed on Paxon on 20 December and declared a batchal for the Coyotes’ newly-acquired Wolf enclave. Eager to add the Dire Wolf and Gorgon factories to their holdings, the Blood Spirits accepted the Coyotes’ defensive bid along the Susquehanna River Valley. The Coyotes fared poorly from the start, underestimating how effective the Spirits’ Scarlet Guards were in the rocky terrain. After losing almost half of their force in the first two hours, the Coyotes’ Forty-ninth Battle Cluster withdrew along the valley, coming close to the Diamond Shark city, Thermopolis. The Blood Spirits, sensing victory, moved to cut the Coyote forces off and stumbled into a massed Shark civilian encampment. The temporary facilities, which were holding most of the Shark enclave’s lower castes for loading onto nearby DropShips, were quickly overrun and trampled before the Spirit ProtoMechs could extract themselves.
The Sharks, incensed by the wanton loss of civilian life [over 600 civilians were killed before the Spirits managed to withdraw –SK], launched a savage counterattack into the Blood Spirit line. However, the Sharks’ repositioning of the Eighty-third Combined Strike Cluster left their nearby firebase unprotected; the Clan was removing what it could for transport back to the Inner Sphere. Star Colonel Daniel Levien realized the opportunity before the Clan and quickly seized it, claiming it for the Coyotes and acquiring ready-made isorla to rebuild from the brutal losses sustained so far.
I expected the worst in commentary from our playtest/factcheck apparatus; they can be (and we want them to be but without crossing lines in etiquette and decorum) brutally honest. I was very pleased that reaction was mostly positive; I felt confident I could proceed forward, building on the story foundation I’d laid out. (Paul was the harshest critic, actually, and thankfully so – he managed to catch a couple of misinterpretations I had regarding the more esoteric points of Clan culture.)
The problem that was coming up, however, was that I was steadily falling behind. While I was still managing at least 4,000 words a night and now writing on Sundays – normally a day of rest for my wife and I – the pace was slowing. As I pulled the story past the enforced “blackout” between the Inner Sphere and the Homeworlds, the research became much less and the writing more open, but there was still a lot to go.
By mid-May, I had delivered Chapters 4 through 8 to the factcheckers and playtesters; with Chapter 10 (rules) already completed, I still had Chapter 2,3, and 9 to finish. A weekend marathon looked inevitable, as we had friends flying in from Germany at the end of the month; their visit and our own mini-vacation to North Carolina would take me out of pocket for the last 10 days of May.
With a to-print date of June 1, the book was not going to be ready for GenCon and late for a fall release. And then I got an email that dealt the book yet another blow – no record sheets, either; the new ProtoMech versions required new record sheet templates and with our layout guys slammed with other work to get out for GenCon, both TRO:Prototypes and WOR would not have record sheets to go with them.
That effectively ripped another 15 pages from the book, unless I came up with something to replace them. And with the new deadline already slipping…it was not looking good. At all.
(To be continued…)