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Torment, the novel.
An Interview with Ray and Val Vallese.
note: Thanks to Ken Lipka, host of the Net
Planescape Fiction Archive, for his questions in this interview.
This interview first appeared in the Mimir@GenCon
feature of Mimir.net
If this novel intrigues you, you may purchase it from the
Mimir.net bookstore, or get it free by ordering
How were you contacted to do this novel? Was
the choice to pursue this particular revenue stream driven by
TSR or Interplay? How did you both get involved?
Vallese: A friend of ours in the TSR Book Department
called us up out of the blue one day and asked us if we'd like
to submit a proposal for the novel. He mentioned that a few
other people were in the running and thought that we'd be a
good choice, too.
offer was made to either or both of us, so naturally we decided
to do it together. We put together our proposal and writing
sample, then sat back and bit our nails until we got word that
it was a go.
did you prepare for this novel? (What inspirations/sources?)
Vallese:One criticism we've heard of the other Planescape
novels is that they weren't always true to the game setting,
that the authors took too many liberties. Now, we personally
don't agree with those criticisms -- we don't feel that books
should adhere to every game rule and stat -- but we decided
that we'd try our darndest not to break any PS rules with Torment.
We already had a lot going for us in that respect, since we
already knew tons about the setting. But we still had stacks
and stacks of PS source books by our side at all times, checking
and cross-checking facts and maps and names and whatnot. We
specifically did NOT re-read any of the existing PS novels,
just to make sure that we wouldn't accidentally borrow something
these lines, as authors writing in an established setting, and
indeed a pre-established plot, how did you deal with the established
limits of your artistic freedoms?
Ray Vallese:This part was
perhaps the most difficult. Writing in the established PS setting
was no problem; as I mentioned above, we were having a blast
poring through all the source books and making things jive.
But following the pre-established plot was a bit harder; at
times we did feel that we needed to take the writing in places
we might not have gone otherwise.
We were sent a several-hundred-page document that outlined pretty
much every step of the computer game, and while we weren't expected
to adhere to it 100%, we were expected to stick to the main
plot and characters, without introducing any new people or locations
or elements. Throw in the fact that this book will be 70-80
pages shorter than a typical TSR novel, and that means that
we had to mercilessly trim away the fat and focus only on the
meat. (For instance, Xanxost the slaad was in our first draft,
but he didn't make the final cut. Sob!)
it was frustrating at first. But the book shaped up to be a
roller-coaster ride of excitement and action, very true to the
computer game and the PS setting both. We hope that fans of
each will be pleased.
Vallese says: Once our main character began his journey
and we had a clear conception of his characterization, it was
sometimes hard to steer him through the established plot of
the game, no matter how INTERESTING the next step was.
was due to two reasons. First, there's so much that can happen
in Planescape that we kept thinking of new possibilities. Second,
once we had an idea of how he wuld think and act -- an idea
of his character -- there were times that we had to write or
rewrite explanations for it to make sense that he would choose
the next step that he did. This didn't reflect the game material,
only the situation of developing more three-dimensional characters
with motivations, pasts, etc. out of a pre-established plot.
what ways did you make the work your own?
Vallese:On the most basic level, we got to choose
the style of narration, tone of the writing, pacing, and all
that good stuff. The main character has a few interesting flaws
(other than being an amnesiac -- the guy's just down on his
luck all around, poor sod), and since everything is filtered
through his eyes and senses, it required us to adopt a certain
style of writing.
example, if the main character is the kind of guy who would
happen to describe an astonishing event in a flat, even manner,
that's how the writing describes it. If the main character is
looking in one direction and doesn't notice something important
happening behind him, the reader isn't privy to that information
either and will be just as surprised by it.
Beyond that, we got to have fun fleshing out all the main characters
and inventing whatever secondary characters we wanted to include.
We also put a big twist in the ending of the book, so that people
who play the game would be surprised by the novel (and vice
versa). (Of course, since the fine folks at Interplay have already
read our book, it's possible that they will incorporate elements
from the book into the game, so that the two products match
even more closely.) We also tried to poke a bit of good-natured
fun at cliches that always seem to crop up in these kinds of
Vallese says:Yes, we tried to have fun with it, especially
with the character of Morte, a floating skull. There were numerous
underground locations in the game that we had to use in the novel,
so we had Morte complain (as regular people might) that he was
getting mighty sick of spending so much time below ground (which
in itself is odd, coming from a skull). When things slowed down
a bit between scenes of big action, Morte whined that he was getting
bored. As the heroes journeyed from place to place in search of
information and kept being told to go find so-and-so instead,
Morte groused about how they were on a wild goose chase across
the multiverse. And so on.
how did writing this book differ from others, such as PS supplements,
Vallese:Well, we had to write it on an extremely
tight deadline. For the first draft, we had about as much time
as a TSR designer would normally have for a 64-page adventure
or accessory (and we had no artwork, maps, etc. that counted
toward our page count!).
it was a lot more pressure. Plus, I always tended to write PS
supplements in chunks, jumping around in the text and working
on whatever I felt like at the moment. But since things were
constantly changing in the novel, we had to start from page
1 and go straight through to the end (it would have done us
no good to write the whiz-bang climax first if it would only
end up changing later).
RPG supplements are supposed to focus more on communicating
the basic info and less on dazzling the audience with clever
prose. (Granted, that's not entirely true for the PS line, as
many people have remarked that they've purchased PS products
just to read them.) On the other hand, the way you write a book
is just as important as what you're writing about.
you have any personal goals that you were trying to accomplish
with this book?
Vallese:It's the first novel for either of us, so
we're very happy to have had the chance to work on it together.
Vallese:My head has always been full of lots of images
and colors and words, and fantasy is a wonderful forum for letting
those things out. Planescape is especially open to possibilities,
and even though some appropriately bizarre scenes and characters
had to be cut (due to length, the editor's preferences, etc.),
I'm thankful that our first novel was so kind to our imaginations.
do you feel is the relationship between RPG, novels, and computer
Vallese:I always used to think novelizations of movies
were odd, simply because the best films usually take into account
the visual nature of their medium and offer an experience that
can't necessarily be captured in words. Try turning a David
Lynch, Peter Greenaway, Terry Gilliam or Coen brothers film
into a novel. (I suppose you could argue that the "best" films
aren't the ones that are usually turned into novels.)
It's just as hard with RPGs and computer games, I think, but
in a different way. So much of the enjoyment comes from the
player's imagination and freedom to choose his own path that
it seems like it'd be hard to capture that in print.
Clearly, when writing Torment we had to make choices as to what
the main character would say, think, and do. We had a plot outline
-- "Joe has to go to the Great Laundromat of Sigil and wash
his undies" -- but we had to build everything else. Thus, someone
who only plays the computer game will no doubt have a vastly
different experience of what Torment is all about than will
someone who only reads the novel.
computer-game player completely controls the main character.
The reader does not.
the producers of the popular Diablo computer game released news
of a Diablo AD&D supplement in the works. This is clearly a
reversal of the typical flow of revenue streams solely from
RPG to computer games.
Do you think Planescape pen & paper may see a surge in
interest from this same direction with the release of the Torment
computer game? What part do you believe the novel will play
in this arena?
Vallese:I sure hope that happy Torment fans decide
to give Planescape RPGs a try; I know that the designers have
tried very hard to make the game true to the PS experience.
computer game features characters, monsters, and locations directly
from the RPGs, after all. I think it's probably more likely
that people will play the computer game and then seek out the
novel, rather than the reverse, simply because the computer
game is being marketed in a big way. On the other hand, there
haven't been many novels for the PS setting, so fans of the
RPGs may pick up the book and then move on to the computer game.
It's hard to say. Let's all just hope that everything sells
well and earns everyone scads of money and makes everyone happy.
the Torment novel for free by ordering Torment from Interplay
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