Welcome. It is with immense joy and satisfaction that I announce that in this extra special super-sized issue, we reach the climax — although not quite the end — of DargonZine’s long-running Black Idol story arc.
This effort began exactly three years ago: in late April of 2003 our contributors gathered in Austin, Texas for our annual Writers’ Summit. For the first time, we devoted an extra two days to brainstorming, outlining, and beginning to write an expansive single storyline that everyone would contribute to: a story about an ambitious nobleman, an arrogant wizard, an ancient cursed stone idol, a questing bard, and a supporting cast of hundreds.
Today’s issue caps that achievement and provides a moment when we can celebrate what we’ve accomplished. It is the culmination of three years of dedicated, hard work by our writers. When the remaining three chapters are printed, the Black Idol will have filled fourteen issues of DargonZine over the course of 18 months. Its 27 chapters have been authored by ten contributing writers. And its final length is a staggering 175 thousand words.
Over the years, DargonZine has attempted several collaborative efforts. By far the biggest — and most difficult — was the Baranur-Beinison War, which fell apart and dragged on for years when the two people driving that storyline left the group. Our Comet Contest and the Night of Souls stories were unqualified successes, but far smaller in scope and required very little coordination between writers. The Black Idol is the biggest, most tightly-coordinated effort we’ve ever attempted. And, happily, it has been our successful collaboration. It has also demonstrated how much more interesting and coherent DargonZine can be when we all work together to create something that truly is greater than any one of us could have done alone.
For most of our history, our writers have mostly written their own, separate stories. While one story might relate to another, most stories didn’t contribute to any larger storyline, and our “shared world” was mostly limited to using common characters and locations. Because every work stood largely on its own, our readers had no real sense of place or events that spanned all the Dargon stories they read.
With the Black Idol, that changed. Suddenly, every story we printed dealt with the characters, locations, and events of a common storyline. That gave our readers a feeling for Dargon as a place, and a sense of what’s going on there at a particular point in time. That, in turn, makes reading our stories easier, more interesting, and more satisfying.
Writing related stories also has a number of benefits for our writers. In the Black Idol, we worked together more closely than ever before, and each writer was inspired by the feeling that their work was more integrated with everything else, a vital part of what was going on in Dargon. At the same time, because they were in near constant contact, our writers felt more camaraderie and received more support from one another, which motivated them to come through for everyone else who was depending on them.
But perhaps the biggest benefit was sharing the ideation and planning phase. Historically, our writers have come up with their own story ideas and only interacted with one another by way of peer critiques, long after the first draft was written. Because of that, we haven’t talked very much about how one comes up with a story idea, and how it goes from idea to the printed page. How do you decide what plot complications to throw at the protagonist? How do you pick which scenes to show? How do you decide whose point of view the story will be told from? During the Black Idol, we learned a tremendous amount from one another about this crucial phase of the writing process.
With so many benefits for both our readers as well as our contributors, there will definitely be more large, multi-writer story arcs in the future, although right now we’re taking our time and trying to learn from the difficulties we had writing the Black Idol. In the meantime, our writers have agreed to set all new stories within Dargon proper, which will promote more sharing of characters and events. In addition, the groundwork has already been laid for the next major event in Dargon’s history, which will be one of the topics of this year’s upcoming Writers’ Summit. So yes, more common storylines will begin to appear, although there will always be standalone singleton stories interspersed within our pages, as well.
As it nears its completion, the Black Idol represents a tremendous success. Not only is it the biggest collaboration we’ve ever produced, but it also showed that closely-related stories are more memorable for our readers and a more inspirational and rewarding experience for our writers, which will shape what DargonZine looks like in the future.
From its beginning to end, our writers devoted over three years to the Black Idol, but it generated 27 stories that filled 14 entire issues. It is the collective achievement of ten fine writers, who deserve copious thanks and congratulations for the titanic effort it took to bring this epic to you.
This one time, I would like to acknowledge each of them by name. They are (in word-count order): Rena Deutsch, Liam Donahue, Dafydd Cyhoeddwr, Jon Evans, Ornoth Liscomb, Rich Niro, P. Atchley, Rich Durbin, Dave Fallon, and Jim Owens, with noteworthy assistance from Nick Wansbutter, Rhonda Gomez, Stuart Whitby, and Victor Cardoso. You’ve read about the exploits of Parris and Tyrus Vage, Anarr and Edmond, Simona and Kal, and the rest, but these writers are the real heroes and heroines of the story of the Black Idol.
If you had to sum it up in a word, the Black Idol was DargonZine’s first real team effort. That’s why, looking back over more than 21 years of wonderful stories by dozens of exceptional writers in FSFnet and DargonZine, this moment — the climax of the immense Black Idol story arc — is by far my proudest moment of them all.