Friday, 31 August 2018 18:57

Bringing Ragnarok - Dev. Diary 1

As an author, I take a lot of inspiration from the world of video games and computer programming.

So I've decided to start writing short blurbs every week, pretty much about whatever comes to mind with respect to what I've been working on the past week. In the gaming world, this kind of thing is often called a 'developer diary' (here's one I've been keeping an eye on, for Hearts of Iron 4.)

Confession: I'm terrible at regular blogging. While I am currently writing Bringing Ragnarok 2 at a pace of about 10,000 words per week (give or take a couple k, depending on what else is going on), which I achieve pretty much by parking myself in front of a computer for at least 4 hours a day, regular blogging is a lot harder for me to sustain.

I haven't actually diagnosed the why of it, but I suspect part of the problem is my own general aversion to writing about myself, what I'm doing, what I'm feeling, so on & forth. I got into a spate of writing about the current state of American politics for a while, as I watched the nation lurch steadily towards a 1930s Germany redux, but I quickly realized that I don't have the stomach for regular political blogging. Too emotional, too... futile. Change happens when people with resources get together to make it happen, not when people get together to blog at one another.

Anyway, blogging is probably hard for that reason (aversion to self-sharing - it's a cultural thing), and also hard because I'm too much of a perfectionist. If I'm not careful, I'll go back and delete everything I've spent the past bit writing, just because I'm not sure I want to say it. (Hah! Actually didn't! Progress!)

But as I've been writing the second installment in the Saga of Six Friends, I've realized just how much I love world-building. When I close my eyes, places and things just sort of pop into existence, and then I try to figure out what they are and what they mean. And throughout my life, I've tried to shape some of them into stories I think some people might want to read.

So these developer diaries will share a bit of what I'm thinking about and designing into the world of Bringing Ragnarok. Part of the fun in writing it is taking my collection of notes and outlines and figuring out how to move characters through the world in a plausible, interesting way. I'm a big fan of realism in art, not so much in the sense of gory details, but in the feeling of being transported to another world. I appreciate it when writers do their homework, and I'm very tolerant of them incorporating detailed explanations into dialogue. I re-read Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, for example, about once each year. And every time I do, I spend hours poring over the appendices Tolkien so kindly created.

Of course, committment to realism presents some sticky challenges. This week, I've been writing (from Kim's perspective) the start of the climactic battle between the Missoula Regiment and Deserets in the Teton River Valley, Idaho. They start out in a listening post, on the north-facing slope of a small ridge coming off the eastern flank of the Big Hole Mountains. Being obsessive-compulsive, I wanted this ridge to be an actual place, that a reader could - with enough knowledge of the local terrain - plausibly re-create the course of the battle Kim, Timur, and Patrick are about to experience at Sandra Chavez' side. Just like Karen Fonstad does in her wonderful Atlas of Middle Earth. Just like I did in Book 1 with the Battle of Southern Butte.

All of which basically boils down to this: I've spent my week walking back and forth between my laptop + monitor setup in the library, where I compose, and the larger screen in the TV room, where I have another computer plugged in for PC gaming on the couch. And on that screen, all day, I've got Google Earth loaded up, and zoomed in to Eastern Idaho. Just so I can satisfy my own personal need to make my little Norse Mythology meets Quantum Mysticism meets Alternative/Alternate History meets Military Science Fiction saga (yep, I genre-mash) as plausible, in terms of the terrain, where the characters go, and how the battle is fought, as I can (note to self: figure out how to layer a campaign map on top of an actual topographic map of the area. Then publish as Dev Diary!)

I guess I should sum up by saying: Thank you, Google. You may do a bunch of stuff that I very strongly dislike, but at least you gave writers like me Google Maps to play with, totally for free.

I wonder what Tolkien would have done with Google Maps. I also wonder if someday I can get Google to make a Middle Earth mode...