By Writing Excuses | March 29, 2015 - 10:12 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Mystery, Romance, Season 10, Structure

Any discussion of story structure must necessarily take a look at that big, long bit between the beginning and the end, that piece where almost everything actually happens. In this episode we talk about the middles of stories, and how formulaic structures will help you get them to do all of the things that you need for them to do, and this can be done without the story feeling formulaic.

We got things a bit out of order here — this was supposed to be the SECOND episode of March, rather than the fifth. When Brandon says “two weeks ago” he means “four weeks ago.” Sorry for the confusion.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Writing Prompt: Your writing exercise: Take the reverse engineered outline from a month ago, and move a side plot to the main plot.

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Wes Chu joins us again for a Q&A about this month’s topic: story structure! Here are the questions:

  • Do you make a conscious decision about how to structure your story before you begin writing?
  • Is it necessary to use multiple structures (three-act, Hollywood formula, etc) in order to ensure that your story works?
  • What tools do you use to view your story’s structure?
  • What do you think about cliffhangers?
  • How do you come up with plot twists for your stories? (Answer: A blast from the past with Michael Stackpole! Season 1, Episode 19!)
  • What structures should I use to add variety to my writing?
  • Is there a specific amount of time you should spend on your introduction before getting to the inciting incident?
  • What do you do when you’re halfway through with a story before you realize the structure is wrong?

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin

Writing Prompt: Make a list of all the awesome things you want your story to accomplish. Then put them in the order in which you want them to happen.

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If you haven’t yet read “Parallel Perspectives,” from Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, we have a PDF for you to download and read before you start listening to this episode. It’s a 33mb file in a public DropBox folder.

Parallel Perspectives PDF for Writing Excuses listeners

Got the file? Done reading? Okay, let’s go…

This week is a Project in Depth episode focusing on a 13-page graphic story (“comic book”) found at the end of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, and our focus this week will be story structure. It’s fun, because the process of structuring a bonus story begins much differently than most projects, and the structure was laid in support of a four-creator collaboration.

The creators? Howard Tayler, Brenda Hickey, Travis Walton, and Keliana Tayler.

(If you’d like your own hard-copy of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, you can get it from Amazon.com or directly from the publisher.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle,  by Christopher Healy, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Writing Prompt: Next month we're going to talk Beginnings: decide on the promises you want to make to your readers in your story. Then outline according to those promises.

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By Writing Excuses | March 8, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Career, Characters, Demonstration, Discovery Writing, Guest, Q&A, Season 10

Wesley Chu joins us for a literal shake-up of our structure for one episode. We had loads of fun with this one.

The I Ching is a collection of poems which you consult with numbered sticks. You ask a question, shake a random stick from the cup, and the corresponding poem holds your answer. In writing The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick used the I Ching to make plot decisions at crucial points. We decided to turn that, and our format, on its head, so we used the I Ching to ask us questions.  Understanding exactly what the I Ching was asking was at least as much fun as answering the questions we inferred.

Here are the I Ching’s questions.

  • Although he reached a great position, Wise Liu did not care for earthly things. He brewed instead the pills of heaven, forging immortality in his earthly crucible.
  • Marriage is a blessed union indeed, when done in accordance with Yin and Yang. The dragon and the phoenix coil together, uniting in a sweet dream of love.
  • All names in Heaven are unique, and even earthly things cannot be the same. Your future is set within the book of fate, which never confuses praise and blame.
  • Emperor Ming slew his one true love, but a shaman took pity, and eased his heart with dreams of roaming upon the moon, his beloved mistress forever at his side.
  • Two scholars went to the capitol for examinations. One passed, and stayed. One failed and returned, carrying a letter from his friend. He fell ill, but eventually, thank Heaven, came home.

 

Important Cultural Note: The I Ching is far more complex than we’ve been able to describe in this podcast, and is worthy of a lot more attention than we were able to present to you in this ‘cast.

Want more Wes Chu? Wes didn’t say a whole lot in this episode, possibly because he was exhausted from the grilling we gave him earlier. This episode was recorded directly it AFTER recording a guest episode with him that will be airing in coming weeks.

Audio Notes: Many of you have complained about the audio quality of the show, especially in the last few months. We went to significant additional effort and expense to make this latest set of sessions sound better. If you like the changes, please let us know.

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, which was available on Audible when we recorded this episode, but which is NOT available as of this write-up.

Writing Prompt: Competing fiercely to become Spring's queen, the garden flowers blossomed to their full beauty. Who will win the golden crown of glory? Among them all, only the peony stands out.

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This month’s syllabus topic is story structure, and we’ll be starting with the part we start with. And that part usually isn’t the beginning — that’s where the story starts for the reader. We’re going to talk about where the story starts for you. It’s the answer to questions like “where is my story coming from?”, “What kind of a story is this?”, or  “What questions does it seek to raise, and subsequently answer for the readers?”

Structurally, it may help to revisit our discussion of the M.I.C.E. quotient. Knowing that your story is primarily a milieu story, as opposed to a character story, is a pretty big thing to know before you start writing.

Of course, if you’re not outlining, this whole discussion may seem irrelevant to you, but ultimately if you discovery-write your way into a good story, you’ll have answered these questions during that process. Knowing that this is a thing you do will likely help you do it better.

The Sherlock Episode Howard referenced was “The Sign of Three”

Homework For an upcoming “Project in Depth” — you may wish to acquire a copy of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, because we’ll be digging into the bonus story, “Parallel Perspectives,” which plays with POV in some ways that required significant re-writing during the collaboration process.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie, narrated by Celeste Ciulla. This book has won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Clarke award, and is a great listen. (note: In the 'cast, Mary says that this book was narrated by Adjoa Andoh, who actually narrated Ancillary Sword.)  

Writing Prompt: Take a favorite piece of of media (but not something YOU created,) and reverse engineer an outline from it.

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By Mary Robinette Kowal | February 24, 2015 - 12:19 pm - Posted in News & Reviews

One of the things that we’ve liked about the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreats in the past has been that we’ve had a small student teacher ratio. When we were setting up the cruise, and decided to remove the membership cap, we knew that we wanted to try to preserve that intimate student experience. We brought Nalo Hopkinson on board immediately.

Our plan was to add additional teachers as the size of the membership grew. We have 110 students and 36 additional family members cruising with us.

It’s time to add more teachers.

Allow me to introduce Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, who will be joining us for the cruise.

Ellen Kushner - Delia Sherman - 2014 - Melissa C Beckman

 

You might remember them from their appearance on the show talking about Interstitial Fiction. But here are their formal bios which tells you a little bit about how very cool they are.

Delia Sherman was born in Tokyo, Japan, and brought up in New York City. Delia’s short fiction for adults has appeared most recently in the anthologies Naked City and Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells. Stories for teen readers have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Steampunk! and Under My Hat. “CATNYP,” a story of a magical New York Between, inspired her middle grade novels Changeling and The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. The Freedom Maze, a time-travel fantasy set in Louisiana, was awarded the Norton Award, the Prometheus Award, and the Mythopoeic Award. Her recent collection of short fiction, Young Woman in a Garden, has appeared on PW’s list of Best SF of 2014. She has worked as a contributing editor for Tor Books and has co-edited the fantasy anthology The Horns of Elfland with Ellen Kushner and Donald G. Keller and The Essential Bordertown with Terri Windling, as well as two anthologies of Interstitial fiction, Interfictions 1, with Theodora Goss and Interfictions 2, with Christopher Barzak. She is Executive Editor of Interfictions Online: A Journal of Interstitial Arts.  She has taught writing at Clarion, Odyssey, and in the MA program in Children’s Literature at Hollins University.

Ellen Kushner is the author of Thomas the Rhymer (World Fantasy and Mythopoeic awards), the interconnected novels Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword (Locus Award, Nebula nominee), and The Fall of the Kings (written with Delia Sherman). She narrated these as audiobooks for Neil Gaiman Presents (Audie Award). With Holly Black, she co-edited Welcome to Bordertown. A co-founder of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, Ellen Kushner was also the longtime host of the national public radio show Sound & Spirit. She has taught creative writing at Clarion, the Odyssey Workshop, and is an instructor at Hollins University’s Children’s Literature M.F.A. program.  She lives in New York City with Delia Sherman and no cats whatsoever.

Besides being two of my favorite writers, they are also two of my favorite people. Warm, generous, and boundlessly enthusiastic about the arts and fiction and the interstices between them.

In short, we shall have such fun and learn so much at the 2015 Writing Excuses Retreat and Cruise.

Also, just a reminder that the window for submitting scholarship applications is still open.

 

By Writing Excuses | February 22, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Q&A, Season 10

It’s time for a Q&A on characters! The questions for this episode were provided by the attendees at the 2014 Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat:

  • How do you have a character grow in power and/or expertise without needing to ridiculously overpower the villains?
  • How do you give a flawed character a growth arc without changing what originally made that character likable?
  • When you have a 1st person POV, how do you convey the emotional complexity of the non-POV characters?
  • How do you create an interesting an engaging story with a main character who is not the protagonist or hero of the story?
  • Is there an easy way to tell when the plot is driving the character instead of the other way around?
  • How do you write a character with egregiously offensive views without you, as the author, appearing to espouse or condone those views?
  • How do you write a character who has a belief that is different from your own?
  • What are some tips for writing a sympathetic antagonist?

 

Liner Note: The Tumbler to which Mary referred is Diversity Cross-Check.

Note: We offered to take questions on Story Structure during March, but we’ll be recording that episode two days from right now. Send us your story structure questions now! Do not delay! If you tweet them to @WritingExcuses they’ll pile up in a space where we can quickly find them.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher, narrated by Kate Reading.

Writing Prompt: Sketch out the events before and after your dead-drop scene from last week and three weeks ago.

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By Writing Excuses | February 15, 2015 - 8:18 pm - Posted in Characters, Season 10

Our character-focused month continues with an exploration of the challenges involved in building a cast for your story. Whether you’re building a large or small cast, you need to know why you’re putting these people in the book, whether they’re main characters, secondary characters, or spear-carriers, and what purpose each of them actually serves in your story.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Splendour Falls, by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat

Writing Prompt: Pick one of the dead-drop characters from the exercise two weeks ago, and turn them into a secondary character. Now take one of the characters with whom they interacted, and write the same scene again, but from this new character's POV.

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Max Gladstone joins us to talk about worldbuilding, and how many genre settings seem to revolve around whatever gifted, magical, or otherwise special sort of people our heroes and villains happen to be. Jedi, for instance. Consider, then, the plight of the “regular” people, like Han Solo.

We talk about how to tell whether or not this is problematic for the story you are telling, and how one might work with the trope in ways that make stories better.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone, narrated by Claudia Alick

Writing Prompt: Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn't about games.

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By Writing Excuses | February 1, 2015 - 10:11 pm - Posted in Characters, Season 10

Characters are the focus of the Writing Excuses Master Class during February, and we lead off with an exploration of a common problem: the main character is often the least interesting person in the story. And of course, in the process of exploring the problem, we look at the sorts of things you can do in order to solve them. It something each of the hosts has struggled with, and we talk about the solutions we’ve arrived at (insomuch as we’ve managed to solve the problem.)

Sidebar: In Season 9 we talked about character attributes using a slider metaphor. If you want to catch up on that, here are links to Episode 9.1 (the three-prong model), Episode 9.25(sympathy), Episode 9.26 (competence), and Episode 9.32 (proactivity.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater

Writing Prompt: Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

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