Writing in a Shared World That’s Just Starting Out
by Richard Lee Byers
Ed Greenwood is a volcano of creativity, but even such a force of nature can’t establish every aspect of a new secondary universe in a single eruption. He can only lay down basic parameters, depict a few key characters and locales in depth, and sketch in the rest to be further developed later, either by himself or by others lucky enough to be invited into the setting.
When you’re one of those invitees early on, you’re being trusted to build parts of the setting to a greater degree than if it’s a franchise like the Forgotten Realms that’s been open for business for a long while. It’s an honor, a joy, and gives you special problems to solve.
Early on, I had a proposal accepted to write a Stormtalons novel set in the outlaw port of Kordrove. Ed had established the basics of the city in a paragraph, and a fascinating, evocative paragraph it is. Still, it’s just four sentences.
If Kordrove was to come alive for the reader, I had my work cut out for me. I had to establish characters. Neighborhoods. Customs. Institutions. Styles of dress and combat. Figure out how people talk and what they eat and drink. (All subject to editorial review and approval, of course.)
So I did all that, and I hope the effort paid off. If so, you’ll find Kordrove to be a sinister, exotic fantasy city in the grand tradition, home to pirates, street gangs (each with its own strange traditions and secret rituals), and reclusive masked wizards, to the dangerous, the grotesque, and ancient forces less defunct that the current inhabitants would prefer.
In addition to developing Kordrove, I had to deal with issues where the greater Stormtalons universe was still taking shape. Ed’s guidelines indicated this was a world where magic was low-key compared to the flamboyant wizardry of the Realms. But at that stage in their evolution, the notes didn’t nail down what the magic would actually look like. I simply came away thinking fireballs and thunderbolts were off the table and that, since I was writing a battle-heavy story (readers of my other stuff, I know you’re shocked), I needed to find another way to make magic cool and combat-effective. (In case you were wondering, thanks to the input of many bright, imaginative people, Stormtalons magic is better defined today.)
My solution was to create faunomancy, the magical specialty of controlling monsters, on the theory that the wizard himself doesn’t have to do colorful, deadly things to thrill the reader if the beastie he brought along does them for him. I hope it’s a solution that yielded the kind of wild, furious action scenes we look for in sword-and-sorcery. As a bonus, it obliged me to serve up a whole bunch of spanking-new monsters for your entertainment. (In Stormtalons, we novelists are trying to steer clear of the standard boringly familiar creatures in favor of something fresh.)
Naturally, when addressing all the above, I was doing so in the context of writing a story, and it needed to be a tale that felt at home in the grim, deadly environment that is Kordrove. A story of revenge seemed like it would do nicely, so, Dumas fan that I am, I spun a yarn that, in its sword-and-sorcery way, may remind you a little bit of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Anyway, mash together all the thoughts, all the approaches, all the work I’ve mentioned, and we get The Ghost in the Stone. I’m proud of the way it came out and hope you like it. If enough of you do, we’ll continue exploring Kordrove together. The story Ghost tells is complete in itself, but the saga of its antihero is just beginning.
Richard Lee Byers is a Forgotten Realms legend, and has many works of both fantasy and horror. Be sure to look at his Stormtalons piece: Ghost in the Stone, available at the Onder Librum Emporium.