11.42: Elemental Drama as a Sub-Genre

Focusing on elemental drama can be tricky. Remember, elemental drama is basically “character change.” A great many stories use character change in some way—it’s almost ubiquitous. In this episode we’ll pick at the ubiquity, and look at the many different ways in which character change can be featured, and what sort of tools we have at our disposal to make this happen in our stories.


Take two scenes, each with a different conflict—a logistical one, and an emotional one—and blend them into a single scene.

Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal, narrated by the author. In two weeks, Episode 11.44 will be a Project In Depth on this book, so if you want to do the homework, now’s a good time to start.

11.Bonus-01: Characterization and Differentiation, with Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb joined us at GenCon Indy for a discussion of characterization and differentiation. And by “discussion,” what we really mean is “we ask Robin all the questions.” We learn about Robin’s process for creating characters, wrapping stories around them, and making these characters distinctly different from each other.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Joel Burnham, and mastered by Alex Jackson, and was made possible by the generous support of the GenCon Indy Writer’s Symposium, and the Writing Excuses patrons at Patreon.


Pull some of your favorite books down, examine the dialog itself, without tags, and determine what tricks the writer has used to differentiate the character voices.

Hex, by Thomas Olde Huevelt

11.41: The Editor’s Wish List, with Navah Wolfe

Navah Wolfe, an editor at Saga Press, joined us to talk about the manuscripts she would really like to see. Ordinarily we don’t encourage people to write to the market, but Navah asked specifically for the opportunity to tell our listeners what she’s looking for. As it happens, tracking Navah’s wish list as you write is unlikely to send you haring after the latest trend—you’re far more likely to develop some new writing skills that will make your work more enjoyable, more fulfilling, and ultimately easier to sell.

Spoiler Warning: In three weeks we’ll be doing a Project in Depth on Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal. If you want to get the most out of that episode, you have three weeks to acquire and read the book.

Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson.



Write two different “this meets that” pitches, once with a focus on the emotional heart, and once with a focus on set dressing.

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, edited by Navah Wolfe (available October 18th, 2016. No audio version available yet.)

11.40: Elemental Drama

The word “drama” gets thrown around a lot. What do we mean when we use “drama” as an elemental genre? For us, Elemental Drama focuses on one character’s transformation, and how that transformation affects everyone around them.

This is a narrow definition of the word, but it’s a very useful way to look at books where the character journey is what has us turning pages. We talk about the tools we use to write these stories, and what kinds of things might trip us up.

Credits: this episode was recorded by Jeff Cools, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Let’s foreshadow the failure state: look at something you’ve recently written, and then go back and insert a character who represents the failure state that your protagonist must avoid.

Ink and Ashes, by  Valynne E. Maetani

WXR16 Attendee Reports, AKA “The Testimonial Page”

We have returned from the 2016 Writing Excuses Retreat, and it’s difficult to quickly describe how the event went beyond simply saying “better than we had any reason to expect.” If you’re considering attending a future Writing Excuses Retreat, you probably want more information than that.

Also, due diligence dictates that you get your information from somebody other than us.

To that end, this post has links to the reports from our attendees. We’ve sorted them alphabetically by surname, and aren’t filtering out anything that happens to be critical of the event. We’ll link to everything we know about, and we’ll keep this page updated as new reports show up.

Attendee Reports

11.39: Elemental Relationship Q&A, with Greg van Eekhout

Greg van Eekhout joined us at Phoenix Comic Con for a live-audience Q&A session about Elemental Relationship writing. Here are the questions:

  • What is your favorite way to establish relationships?
  • How do you recover when a relationship starts to feel forced?
  • How do you show a “best friend” relationship?
  • How do you decide the pacing of the romance?
  • Do you try to make the nature of character relationships clear, or do you leave it to subtext?
  • How do you go about writing transsexual relationships?
  • What are your favorite relationships to write?
  • How do I write the beginning of a relationship between characters the reader has not yet really met?
  • How do you transform love into hate, and vice-versa?
  • When writing a love triangle, how do you avoid telegraphing the final resolution?
  • Do you have recommendations for books that focus on familial friend relationships rather than romance?

Credits: this episode was recorded live at Phoenix Comic-Con by Jeff Cools, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Identify something about your location that would provide, in an alternate universe, a source of magic unavailable in other locations.

California Bones, by Greg VanEekhout