Answered by Örjan Westin
The Writing Process
The Book and the ECDE
What is "The Tale"?
"The Tale of Westala and Villtin" is a sword&sorcery spoof. It started, and continued, on the internet newsgroup alt.fan.pratchett (afp), where the two authors, Örjan Westin and Marco Villalta, have taken turns writing new episodes.
Pratchett? Is it a Discworld story, then?
No, most emphatically not. Fan fiction is not allowed on afp, and The Tale is set on an ordinary, generic fantasy planet. No Discworld characters appear (apart from a Dibbleresque street vendor, but then again, there is one of those in every major city in the multiverse) in it, and there are very few references to the Discworld in general. It is a completely original work (if one is allowed to use that term to describe something that in a sense is nothing so much as a collection of references).
So why on alt.fan.pratchett?
Because that's where it all started. The kind of bantering roleplaying seen in the prehistory happens in afp from time to time, and ppint.'s post, which is the introduction to The Tale, was written in much the same manner, as were our replies. Since we had been asked to provide a story, and I had some time to kill, I wrote the beginnings of one. Then ... Well, it kind of got moving, and I just kept trying to stay ahead of it.
Isn't it a bit stupid to write a book and just give it away like this?
Er... Yes? In short, neither one of us thought it would go on for this long, and once Elin had offered to edit what we had written so far and put it up on a website there wasn't much point in trying to hide it somewhere. We didn't do it for the money, or the fame, or the groupies (well, I know I didn't, and if Marco did he must have been disappointed), but simply because it's fun to write, and people seemed to like it. We were just trying to entertain our friends.
So how did you work?
Well, one of us would write an episode and post it to afp, sometimes breaking it up into two or three parts if it was a long one, and then the other would pick up the baton and do the same.
But what about planning?
We didn't, for most of it. I hadn't expected Marco to continue the story in the first place, and when he sent me an e-mail asking if it was okay if he did (being a bit unsure if he dared since he was, then, a relatively new poster on afp and I was already something of an old fart), I replied with a pleased ""Sure, go ahead and do whatever you want with it, I don't know where it's going." That kind of established that we wouldn't discuss it at all.
Without talking to each other, how did you manage to end it?
We realised that we would have to talk to each other if it was ever to end, and when Marco returned to Sweden after celebrating the Christmas holidays in Italy, he stopped over in England, so we could meet up and have a chat about it. There wasn't any detailed planning happening there, but we managed to figure out what was going to happen in a very broad sense. So we met for the first time on December 29th 2003, and spent a couple of hours over some pints discussing what ideas we had for the story.
Wasn't it hard to write without knowing what would happen next?
Yes and no. It was liberating in that we didn't need to show any consideration to each other - I didn't need to worry about how I messed up his plans or vice versa - and it felt safe knowing that if I ran out of ideas I could just do some jokes and let him worry about taking the story forward. There was a lot of that from both of us in the early episodes. On the other hand, there was always a worry that I would mess up his plans, especially since I didn't have any of my own, and once we got going, there was the impatient waiting for the other to be done with it, too.
One of the greatest benefits was, I think, that we had both seeded the story with plot hooks from the beginning, hoping that the other would feel brave enough to pick one up and make something happen. In a sense, early on it was like a bad sitcom, in that nothing really happened and at the end of an episode things would be pretty much as they were before. When we finally did get going, we had this vast supply of "foreshadowing" to draw on. When inspiration deserted us, we could always go back and pick up one of these hooks, or a one-off gag, and develop it further.
So you didn't plan on <foo> to happen?
Probably not. For instance, when I wrote, early in the story, about our heroes having saved the unnamed daughter of the innkeeper from a slaver, I just wanted to establish some heroic reason for him to be in their debt so he would welcome them. Marco, however, had noticed the exchange between Graham and Therese on afp, which fitted well, and thus Tessan and Affor came to be. That kind of thing happened all the time.
Why the framing story and all the eating?
It started as the framing story, in which we just continued on with the roleplaying banter after ppint. had offered food and drink in exchange for a story. Once the story proper happened, the framing story provided a way for Marco and me to hand over the baton, banter and talk about the story. When Elin edited what we had written so far into HTML pages, she started with ppint.'s post and included the frame, both because that marked the starting point, and because it was a part of the whole concept.
She has made a marvellous job of creating something that is not only readable, but funny too, out of our brief notes on what to eat and our dialogue. What is said by Orjan and Marco in the framing story is quoted verbatim from our posts to afp, but the descriptions and the story is written by her. You can, of course, skip those bits, but that would be a shame. It's not only good, but also enhances the main story. Of course, you could also skip the main story and just follow the culinary adventures of two hungry storytellers in the frame, but that, I think, would be cheating.
What does <foo> mean?
Look it up in the Annotated Westala and Villtin Files (AWVF). Many people on afp have helped spot them - even the most obscure ones - and Daibhid and Elin has spent a lot of effort collating, researching and editing them. There might be a few left unspotted, but in all likelyhood, if it's not in the AWVF, it wasn't meant to mean anything.
Why put so many references in?
Because it was fun? In the beginning, almost all references made were to people on afp, and in hindsight one might suspect that this was to keep it interesting to the readers of afp. "Names sell papers" as a wise man put it, and we were both a bit unsure of what we were going to do with this thing.
Later on, we put them in as private jokes, or as intended references that would give the reader spotting them an extra joke or explanation, in the same way Pratchett does. That is in no way intended as a comparison between us and him, only an acknowledgement that our favourite author does it. It has always been a popular pastime on afp to try to spot these references (commonly, if erroneously, known as annotations), and in between the release of his books, we could provide afp with the same kind of entertainment.
Are all characters in the Tale real-world people?
Actually, none of them are. However, for most of the characters, a real-world person on afp has provided some inspiration. Sometimes only with their name, sometimes by something they have said, written or done. But the characters are all made up - we don't know any swordcarrying mercenaries, evil sorcerors, mad priests or chicks in chainmail. To the best of our knowledge, at least, and the last category should have been hard to miss.
Having said that, though, many people seem to like the thought that "they" appear in the Tale, that they have a fictional alter ego. We have tried to be careful, since even though it is explicitly said in the introduction that "Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental", we do not wish to offend anyone by implying something about a real person. What the characters do and say is purely fictional - even on the occasions we have used a quote from a, for want of a better term, source person and had a character say it. When a character thinks or says things that expresses a personal philosophy, we have tried to either keep it as true as we can to what we know of the source person, or made it diametrically opposite to show that the two are not the same.
What is this talk about a book?
In October 2004, the book Ill in Anorankhmar: A Tale of Westala and Villtin was published by Mad Cow, Lund, Sweden. The ISBN is 91-631-6186-9 and it can be ordered online (unless it has sold out when you read this) from Ye Olde Tale Shoppe.
This book is not simply a printed version of The Tale of Westala and Villtin as it appears on the web, but also includes the editor's foreword, the authors' afterword and some stunning illustrations by Ann-Cathrine Loo. It's also easily carried around to be read in the bath or on a bus, which the Internet isn't..
Will you get rich and famous through the book?
No. The printing of the book is self-financed, and if I'm really lucky I might get my money back, but I don't count on it. It is also a very small edition, so there won't be much fame from it either.
Is it just vanity publishing then?
I wouldn't say so. Of course, it's fun to have written a book, and to have a real book with a real ISBN and all, but that wasn't the reason to do it - I am not prepared to take that kind of financial risk just for vanity's sake. There were people who were interested in buying a printed copy, enough that I thought it was worth the risk. We'll see how it works out.
And the CD?
The "Extended CD Edition" is a little joke on films like "The Lord of the Rings", but it does contain a lot of extra material, both things previously published on afp and new things, never before seen.
How much of the CD is only there as a filler?
I haven't included anything on the CD I don't think people might be interested in, but I suppose this FAQ could be seen as filler material. You can see a listing of the full contents at Ye Olde Tale Shoppe.
I want to be like you, what should I do?
I'd recommend either a psychologist or an exorcist.
Can I write fanfic, too?
Sure, go ahead - many people already have. Just try to remember that people tend to care about "their" characters, so be careful what you do with them. We have not conclusively killed any character based on some aspect of a real person, for instance - see the discussion about characters above for more on that.
For fanfic not set in the Taleverse, well, that's between you and the original creator. Just don't post any Pratchett-related fanfic on afp. Oh, and please don't make Pratchett fanfic set in the Taleverse - we do not want The Tale to suddenly spurt thinly disguised copies of Pratchett characters.
Can I have <foo> in my story?
If you post it to afp, it shouldn't be infringing on Pratchett's work, as noted above. However, in our eyes it's fanfic, and we reserve the right to ignore anything we don't think fits. Only what we write is, in our eyes, canon. Neither do we like to say what goes and what doesn't - apart from that you should treat characters with respect. We might keep anything that we like that has been written in fanfic, though.
If it works, and doesn't break anything already there, sure. But remember that it's a fairly low-key fantasy world, so a race of beautiful and powerful beings that could enslave the whole world in an instant but don't because they're so benevolent and wise... Nah. No great hulking Dark Gods with a teenager's angst and attitude either.
Can I post it to afp?
It's not for us to say, really. It's worth noting, however, that afp is not a fiction-writers group, and that you might not be appreciated if you treat it as a such. There is an old say that goes something like "Do not ask afp for comments, for they will ignore you and wibble about cheese", and that is worth remembering. You might spend ages writing something, putting your heart and soul into it before posting, only for it to be completely ignored. That happens to all of us, and it's not worth fretting about.
Use your own judgement. Whether it will be appreciated depends on the current mood of the group, how well you write, and - though it's not often talked about - who you are and your standing in the group. A sure way to get noticed is to break the rules - posting binaries or HTML, or writing Pratchett-based fanfic - but you'll not like the attention you get.
I'd recommend you bung it on a website somewhere and just post a link to it if you're not sure.
© 2004 Örjan Westin