The dance is over.
In this issue we conclude Alan Lauderdale’s six-part “Quadrille” series. First envisioned around Christmas 1995, the story took almost exactly a year to research and write. Another nine months later, in August of 1997, after considerable revision and waiting in queue for publication, its six chapters began seeing print. And it has taken another nine months just to print the stories! But with the publication of this issue, the players take their final bow as the dance finally comes to a close.
“Quadrille” is a superlative story in many ways; it is also an excellent example of both the advantages and disadvantages of writing in a longstanding collaborative milieu.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is how it came into being. Alan had been reading one of our early issues (back from the days of FSFnet), and came upon a storyline that interested him: that of Ariel the novice air mage, beset upon by the evil minions of Haargon. As often happens in an anthology where writers come and go steadily, Becki Tants, the author and originator of the Ariel storyline, had left the project back in 1988, leaving behind a three-story series with no climax or conclusion. Alan, finding the storyline intriguing, decided to pick it up where Becki had left off. By being part of a collaborative project, Alan therefore benefitted from a ready source of ideas and material to call upon.
In developing his story, Alan rapidly discovered other characters such as Kittara Ponterisso and Terkan, who fit nicely into roles his story needed, and had also been used in the past. Here he discovered another advantage in collaborative writing: a huge collection of ready-to-use secondary characters with plausible backgrounds.
While all Dargon stories do this to one extent or another, “Quadrille” is unique in how extensively it takes advantage of preexisting storylines and characters, maximizing the benefits of participation in a longstanding anthology.
On the other hand, those preexisting storylines and characters come at a cost. Anyone writing a story that leverages previously-printed material is, of course, constrained by that material. For example, in Becki’s stories Ariel is attacked by minions of Haargon; in order to maintain consistency with Becki’s story, Alan could not alter the fact that those attacks actually took place. In DargonZine, anything which sees print becomes “canon”, and cannot later be changed.
It should be apparent that a writer who borrows characters or storylines would need to do some research in order to ascertain exactly what is and is not printed canon, so that he can portray people and events in a manner consistent with previous depictions. In the case of “Quadrille”, which recycled at least three storylines and a large number of existing characters, that research task was immense. In fact, the Online Glossary was created primarily as a response to our writers’ need for tools to manage and sift through the ever-increasing morass of printed stories.
Beyond simple adherence to previously-printed details, a writer who borrows characters or storylines from another writer has a moral obligation to respect the original creator’s intentions. If the creator is still an active participant in the Dargon Project, ascertaining the owner’s intentions and obtaining permission to use a character may be as simple as a brief exchange of email. However, when a writer leaves the project, one has to extrapolate their intent from the materials at hand. One of Alan’s early decisions was to take Ariel’s story in a very different direction than it had been going. Although his story departed radically from where Becki might have taken it, Alan expressly retained her presumed intention to have the heroine come through her trial relatively unscathed.
Finally, existing characters usually come with existing relationships and entanglements. In Quadrille, Alan borrowed a few characters to play key roles in his story. Yet he very soon discovered that those characters were already involved in other storylines which he would, to some extent, have to portray in “Quadrille”. As he included partial portrayals of those tangential storylines, he also wound up bringing in additional characters from those stories, who brought along additional entanglements and further research requirements. Alan found himself having to deal with a continually expanding number of peripheral characters and plots in “Quadrille” which spiraled outward from his central tale.
In the end, “Quadrille” stands as an extensive example of the interrelatedness of all Dargon-based stories. Furthermore, it is proof that one can write a story that both integrates the creations of multiple writers, and is a great read. It does an exemplary job of integrating multiple storylines and borrowing other writers’ characters, yet is also an example of how much work it can take to do so.
And, believe it or not, during the year it has taken to print “Quadrille”, Alan has been busy researching and writing his next story, which continues the exploits of Mouse of Kervale. He tells me that it is nearly halfway written, and may wind up being just as long as “Quadrille”…
But as editor, I’m used to getting those kinds of threats all the time!