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Travels through Azeroth and Outland interview, part 2

Allison Robert

We return today with the final portion of our interview with Zac, the gifted writer behind Travels through Azeroth and Outland. Today, we've asked about narrative difficulties, the dark parts of Azeroth's development, "fridge horror," and whether player characters are ultimately a good or bad thing for the world.

You can find the first portions of our interview here:

WoW Insider: Did you encounter any narrative "gaps" within the WoW storyline that forced you to speculate more on what was really going on? The "time jump" for death knight characters from the end of their starting experience to modern Cataclysm Azeroth is one of the more well-known examples.

Zac: I actually like narrative gaps since they give fans a great opportunity to speculate. For instance, events on Azeroth during the events of The Burning Crusade presented me with a chance to write about the changes on the home front, and I devoted a short chapter to describing these changes. Cataclysm contradicted some, but most of them actually worked out.

Travels is peppered with a number of compelling secondary characters. Some of them exist just to get Destron from point A to point B, but was there ever anyone who just ran away with the storyline without that being your specific intent?

While writing Travels, I definitely made efforts to plan ahead, but these plans were never set in stone. If a promising new idea arose from something I wrote, I'd usually go follow that. If a long-cherished idea ended up not working, I'd scrap what I'd written and start over (which is a hard thing to do, but every writer needs to be ready to do it).

A few of the side characters surprised me in how they developed. I ended up giving Pazshe, the ethereal diplomat, more page time simply because the character was so fun to write. The side character that grew the most turned out to be Daj'yah, the troll mage in Orgrimmar. While never intended to be that important, she surprised me by becoming the narrator's best friend. As such, she ended up playing a big role when the narrator returns to post-Wrathgate Orgrimmar.

What work or works have influenced you the most?

I'm a bit of a news junkie (specifically for international news), so my years of reading about world events proved to be a rich source of ideas. In terms of literary influence, Jorge Luis Borges proved a major inspiration, especially in his fantastical explorations of ideas that always turn out to be more complex than they first seem. Another influence would be David Eddings, for the realistic details (trade, influence of geography on culture, climate) that he included in his work. In the travelogue, I attempted to give the setting a similar level of attention

Since I'm only a fanfic writer, I'm not sure if I'm really qualified to give advice, but I do think that those with an interest in writing traditional fantasy should also look outside of the genre for inspiration. Certainly there's nothing wrong with traditional fantasy, but having a wider frame of reference is never a bad thing. This is true for any creative medium.

Certain chapters are shockingly dark. Was there ever anything that made you sit back and wonder if things were getting too ugly? Or did you see it as the logical result of a world where a lot of really horrible things happen?

It's funny that you asked this, since I was recently on the forum saying that I didn't think it necessary or desirable for Blizzard to make post-Cataclysm WoW any darker than it is. Maybe I need to pay more attention to what I write?

In some cases, the darker aspects of Travels are the result of my attempts to take a more realistic (at least, realistic as I understand it) look at the setting. This is a world fraught with violent conflict, and there's going to be a lot of fallout from that: Famine, forced relocations, and poverty (all of which which Blizzard touches on in Cataclysm). These aren't necessarily problems that can be solved by sword or spell either.

In other cases, I wanted to imagine just how threatening certain factions -- the Scourge, the Qiraji -- might actually be. It's easy to see them as only being groups of bad guys. I wanted to go beyond that. The Scourge isn't just a rampaging undead army; it is a force that robs you of everything you are, something so evil that it even corrupts your dreams and memories.

Did anything legitimately bother you to write?

There were times (like the later Icecrown chapters) that the content became too bleak for me to really enjoy writing. This was quite rare, however.

What do you feel is the most consistently misunderstood or badly roleplayed race/class by players?

So much of RP is a judgment call, so I don't really feel comfortable saying that a class or race is likely to be badly played. I'm willing to accept almost any character concept so long as it's presented logically, consistently, and believably, even if it does differ greatly from the norm.

Azeroth abounds with examples of what TV Tropes refers to as "fridge horror," i.e., things that become terrifying or horrible once you really stop to think about them. What do you see as being the best or most subtle example of WoW's fridge horror?

The one that stuck with me was Westfall. The game presents a once-prosperous breadbasket reduced to dust and ash. What would be the ramifications of this? I wanted to explore what might happen in a civil war that takes place in one of the most prosperous and plentiful regions in the world. You don't see it in game, but one suspects that it has torn families and friendships asunder. Though the Defias started as criminals, I don't doubt that they'd resort to coercion in order to fill their ranks, which would inflict further miseries on the embattled populace.

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