Insider 5-18-2012

Most of you know me as the editorial expert here at Privateer Press, the person who loves to hunt down comma splices, put dangling modifiers in their place, and eviscerate rambling text to get to the good stuff. I won’t deny it—there’s a reason my forum avatar carries a scythe—but that’s actually only one part of my day. One of the other things I get to do is work with the staff writers to shape and develop the text, whatever its purpose or setting. What an adventure it can be!

For the main Iron Kingdoms fiction, this process always begins with fleshing out the new characters we’ll be introducing in the book. Starting with a broad sketch and model rules provided by the developers, our lead writer Doug Seacat and I spend time with each character and wheedle them into telling us who they are and how they see the world around them. What makes them tick? What are they striving toward? How do they compare to and see the other characters—both the ones in their faction and ones they’re likely to run into in the course of the book? I can’t reveal the specifics of our methods, but I can tell you this: they always talk in the end.

Every character must be distinct, or they can’t really come alive in the fiction. The mercenary warcaster General Ossrum introduced in Colossals, for example, is quite different from the other Rhulic characters. He carries soldiering in his very blood, going straight back to Dhurg himself, and this informs his strong belief in his military destiny. By contrast, Gorten Grundback came from mining stock and eventually took to the mercenary trade, while Madhammer is a half-deranged demolition and munitions expert disowned by his clan.

You’ve no doubt noticed that the fiction presented in the books can be complicated. Besides being rich in characters and events, each faction’s story needs to support that faction’s part in the events of the day and still support an overarching storyline for the game line. Taken together, they put past events in context, introduce new characters and illustrate how they fit into the setting, and propel readers toward future events as they build. Oh, and of course, each piece has to be just the right size, each and every time. Sometimes our discussions seem more like throwing a grenade and seeing what survives, but usually Doug has a pretty clear idea of the main things he wants to accomplish with each story and it’s more a matter of helping him pin down the details or solve specific problems.

Once the outline is all set and approved, the writing can begin in earnest. This is the just-get-it-on-the-page-however-works stage for the writers, and they all have their own ways of making it happen. For example, I share an office with Aeryn Rudel, so often I get to hear him grumble and growl at his screen while he’s working something out, then attack his keyboard with a ferocity that tells me (and anyone who happens to walk by) he’s cranking along. Drumming means he’s ruminating on something but not quite stuck, and whistling means he’s just plain procrastinating. Will Shick’s process is very concentrated; he writes quickly and in great bursts when he can carve out the time, and I hardly ever hear frustrated cursing drifting from his office. (Then again, I try to walk by quickly so as not to be spotted…) Doug writes in a secret cave atop Mt. Rainier accessible only to the rare well-read mountain goat and the most courageous—or foolhardy!—supplicants, so how he creates a draft is anyone’s guess.

With drafts in hand, it’s party time! This is the beginning of our special Gauntlet of Picky Critics with Deadly Sharp Things review process, where things can really get bloody…