Writing a Novel, p2

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Part 2 of 3, by David Gaider

So I had accepted the task of writing the Dragon Age novel. Or the first Dragon Age novel, if one chooses to be optimistic. Which I usually don’t. I’m not a very optimistic person, generally speaking… which rather puts this whole undertaking into question, doesn’t it? But we’ll ignore that for now. I was given a deadline. I’m good with deadlines. I respond well to them. It’s my Austrian blood, I think. Guilt and panic are the only motivations that will get me going, most days. Well, that and schnitzel.

There are obstacles that needed to be overcome prior to beginning work on this novel. One such was the fact that I wouldn’t be working for BioWare when I wrote it. I would be working for the publisher. The publisher had expressed interest and went so far as to ask BioWare if they had any writers hanging about who might be interested in the work – cut to me jumping up and down going “Me! Me! Me!” in the background – but it was made very clear by my bosses: work on the book was separate from work on the game. “Go home and write. Here you… well, you write. But you write for the game.”

There was, after all, this whole game thing I had going on the side. You may have heard of it. We were starting into some periods of mild crunch as well (mild at the time) that would make writing a novel in my downtime an interesting proposition. Interesting in the way that said downtime would not exist to any large degree.

There was also another issue. The novel needed to serve two mistresses, as it were. Obviously it needed to be awesome in and of its own right – and awesome is a fine mistress to serve, let me tell you. She’s got these leather boots that go all the way up there and a riding crop and everything. But there was also the fact that this story needed to introduce the Dragon Age setting. It needed to touch on all the important points, as most readers would be completely unfamiliar with any of them. And while the mistress of setting introduction and the mistress of awesome are not completely incompatible, they do tend to stare uncomfortably at each other from across the room. Like maybe they’re all legs and they’re worried they’re just going to get in each other’s way. You reassure them, you pat them on their leather gloves and coo softly but still they’re dubious. (See? Good word.)

I suppose there’s also the problem that I’d never actually written a novel before, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. Heck, if I was daunted by a lack of actual qualifications, I wouldn’t be working at Bioware at all. I figure I wrote about half a million words of dialogue on Baldur’s Gate 2 alone, so the way I see it I’m due for a little narrative.

The first obstacle was easy enough to overcome. In concept. I would work in my office, sitting at my little computer typing away all day… and when the time came to go home I would do so. Quickly. And work in my office at home, doing exactly the same thing. Normally I had time for dinner. On crunch days I had fifteen minutes, tops. I did say the deadline was pretty tight, no? If I made my quota each week I allowed myself to take the weekend off. If I didn’t, I worked. And there’s really nothing more I can say about that (although I could probably write an entire dissertation on ‘Things That Will Distract You, Like Browsing the Internet’).

As for the second obstacle… that was a bit trickier. I had to list the elements I needed to touch on. Religion. Elves. Dwarves. Darkspawn. Magic. Ferelden. Umm… yeah. I suppose I could write a plot that conveniently visited each important topic in succession in David Eddings fashion (“Look! This chapter has brought us the land of Religia! Where everyone is extremely religious! Next chapter we shall voyage to Elvia!”) or I could… do something else. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I liked David Eddings and all when I read him the first time. I just wanted to be a little less deliberate. Or try. Or maybe try to try.

I decided on a prequel. We had identified years ago that there was an excellent untold story to be found in the Ferelden rebellion against Orlais. It’s referred to many times in the course of the game, but there was a lot more that could be said about it. It was a great tale. Check one mistress, right? This was before Drew had even written his (most excellent) Mass Effect prequel, so we thought we were being all innovative and stuff. Ooo prequel! At any rate, I still thought it was a good idea. I put together an outline that touched on all those world elements to at least a degree and explained in detail what would happen in each chapter and then submitted it. Surely they wouldn’t like it, right? What are the odds?

But they did. Huh. Go figure.

Now I just had to write the damned thing.
David Gaider wisely prepared for a career in the games industry by first suffering from terminal boredom as a hotel manager. During that time he gamed as much with his friends as he could, and that paid off with a sweet little job writing for a company he’d never heard of before on a sequel to a computer game he’d never played. “It’ll last a few years, I guess,” he thought. Nine years later he is still at the same company, working as the Lead Writer on Dragon Age: Origins. Who knew?