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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By Writing Excuses | January 25, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Business, Discovery Writing, Ideas, Q&A, Season 10

At the Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat we premiered the Season 10 concept, and we invited our attendees to give us the questions we need this month. (They’ll also be the ones providing our questions for February, but we’ll cast our net wide for questions in March.)

  • Ideas are hard! Is it ever acceptable for inexperienced writers to write derivative works?
  • How do you keep from being discouraged when something similar to your idea comes out?
  • How do you know when your idea is a novel, vs. when it’s a short story?
  • Should you only write for themed anthologies if you already have an idea ready in that theme?
  • How can you practice description when your idea is set someplace completely unfamiliar to you?
  • When should you abandon an idea you love?

Liner Notes: We talked about novel-length vs short-story-length ideas in Season 6, Episode 10 when we covered the M.I.C.E. quotient, and again in Season 8, Episode 20, when Mary talked about short story structure. Also, the anthology into which Howard was drafted on the basis of a spur-of-the-moment idea is Shared Nightmaresand his story is called “U.I.”

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett, narrated by Alma Cuervo

Writing Prompt: Take one of the ideas you're excited about, and then audition five different characters for the lead role in that story. Make sure they're all different from each other.

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By Writing Excuses | January 21, 2015 - 9:27 am - Posted in PSA, Season 10

The Hugo Awards voters have honored us by nominating the Writing Excuses podcast in the Best Related Work category several times in the past, and two years ago Writing Excuses won! This is something we’re still giddy about.

If you’re eligible to nominate things for the Hugo ballot, and if you think Writing Excuses belongs on that ballot, we’d like for you to consider nominating our anthology, SHADOWS BENEATH, in the Best Related Work category, rather than nominating the podcast itself. Of course, it’s possible that the (free!) podcast is all you’re familiar with, so if you’re eligible to nominate for the Hugos, use the contact form at brandonsanderson.com* for a complimentary electronic copy of SHADOWS BENEATH: THE WRITING EXCUSES ANTHOLOGY.

And don’t delay! The nomination period is open for another month, but if you were not at LonCon, and have not yet registered for WorldCon 2015, you only have until January 31st to buy your voting or attending membership. Visit sasquan.org for the details.

Whether or not you want to nominate Writing Excuses, you should consider acquiring that membership so that your favorite books, stories, publications, editors, artists, and writers have a chance to appear on this year’s Hugo Awards ballot.

(*WEBMASTER’S NOTE: during the podcast, Brandon said to use an email address to acquire the complimentary copy of the book. That email address isn’t working, so we’re falling back to the contact form. Sorry for the inconvenience!)

Writing Prompt: What five genre fiction novels would you most like to see on the Hugo Award ballot this year? What about novelettes? Short stories? Now imagine that each of these works is actually a superhero. What kinds of crime would your Hugo Super Team fight?

By Writing Excuses | January 20, 2015 - 9:32 am - Posted in Gender, Horror, Race, Season 10

Cherie Priest joins us for our “wildcard” episode on Lovecraftian horror this month. We’re still doing the master class format, and part of that format is that once per month we’ll have a guest, or otherwise step away from the month’s topic a bit.

This episode talks about what Lovecraftian horror is, its influence on genre fiction, and the tools it offers for modern writers.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest, narrated by Johanna Parker and Roger Wayne.

Writing Prompt: Take a character, and from that character's point of view, describe their reaction to something horrific and awful, but do so without describing the thing itself.

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By Writing Excuses | January 11, 2015 - 8:01 pm - Posted in Characters, Demonstration, Ideas, Season 10

Writing Excuses Season 10, the podcasted master-class, continues with this exploration of that critical second step: what do do once you’ve got an idea that has story-legs.

(Note: When we say “two weeks ago” over and over, that’s just bad math. You haven’t missed an episode.)

We talk about our various approaches to this, many of which center around finding the person or people who are most affected by the thing our idea conjures into their world, but that’s really only the very beginning of it.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Shipstar, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, narrated by Zach Villa

Writing Prompt: Using last week's five story ideas (or five new ones):

  • Take two of them and combine them into one story.
  • Take one and change the genre underneath it.
  • Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it
  • Take the last one and have a character make the opposite choice.

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