This episode was recorded live at CONduit in Salt Lake City with special guest Aprilynne Pike. Our topic: How do we “keep it real” when writing speculative fiction? What does that even mean?

(Okay, it means making the stuff that exists in real life seem real.)

Short answer: Research. We talk about how we go about researching the “real” elements of our various works, all the while trying hard not to go “squee” with our very first #1 New York Times Bestelling guest. We also discuss many of the shortcuts and tricks we fall back on.

This week’s episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by editor Stacy L. Whitman and her World-Building in Middle Grade and Young Adult Speculative Fiction Seminar. The seminar will be held at the Provo Library in Provo, Utah from 1:00pm to 5:00pm on Saturday, June 27th, 2009. The deadline for registration is June 19th.


This entry was posted on Sunday, June 14th, 2009 at 8:41 pm and is filed under Guest, Live Audience, Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. June 14, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

    No writing prompt this week?

    Posted by DarkEyedBlues
  2. June 15, 2009 @ 12:37 am

    Here’s a writing prompt:
    Take something outlandish, such as a self-driving car (or, for that matter, vegetable fairies), and figure out everything it would need to work.
    Just off the top of my head, good AI and optical sensors would be required, although that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.

    Posted by PrinceRepulsive
  3. June 15, 2009 @ 12:44 am

    Oh, I forgot to mention: then write about said outlandish thing.

    Posted by PrinceRepulsive
  4. June 15, 2009 @ 2:50 am

    For a writing prompt, you could take the old icebreaker — take 2 actual things and one fake thing and tell us about them. Maybe for a writing prompt make it five real things and one created one? Then write a scene around those, telling us about all six in such a way that we can’t identify the false one.

    Posted by Mike Barker
  5. June 15, 2009 @ 8:25 am

    So I guess keeping it real means stick with believable characters with believable reactions. I do wonder how I can understand the audience better without resorting to stalking them…

    Posted by Jin
  6. June 15, 2009 @ 11:03 am

    so, what’s the difference between a convention and a conference? is there even a difference? i’m sure there is.

    i’m off to the writers conference they have up here, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, ( this October. so much fun.

    and why can’t the prompt be write about someone attending a convention?? 😉

    Posted by Lindsay
  7. June 15, 2009 @ 11:04 am

    I love it when someone who knows what they are doing says something that I say too!
    It is the one occasion where I feel smart!!!

    I have a children’s book I am in the rewriting process with. A little neighbor girl came and wanted to read it out loud. She was all happy about being me ‘editor’.
    The biggest thing that it helped with was I learned that some of the words were hard for her and sometimes it was difficult to know which character was talking. So I knew what I needed to change. It really helped and was worth it, even worth the embarrassment of a 10 year old correcting my spelling and grammar!

    When I think of real characters I think of Kelsier from Mistborn. I would venture to say that he is one of the best characters I have ever read simply because he is so realistic. Half the time I didn’t even agree what he was doing or how he did it. But isn’t that like real people? You don’t always agree with them even if you’re friends with them.

    Veggie fairy!

    Posted by CM
  8. June 16, 2009 @ 12:07 am

    a real transcript (or is it memorex?)

    Posted by Mike Barker
  9. June 17, 2009 @ 9:00 am

    A somewhat rhetorical question:

    At what point does doing meticulous research just become another form of world-building, and highjacks the impetus of the work?

    I’ve discovered at some point I have to stop consulting Mr. Wiki and just get on with the handwavium.

    Incidentally, handwavium is right next to upsidaisium on the periodic table.

    Posted by Karl
  10. June 17, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

    I’ve noticed that all sorts of outlandish ideas are OK if the characters feel real. If I don’t believe in the characters it could be set in the most realistic and normal place imaginable and I won’t believe it.

    Posted by readerMom
  11. June 19, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

    In turn if it’s in the strangest place in the world where monsters kill people, space Mercenaries make jokes, Ash falls from the sky, and there are plant fairies. I can believe that. Just give me characters I can believe in and care about.

    Posted by CM
  12. June 19, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

    I have a handy idea that is used often but not discussed (as far as I know); the transitional scene, or how you go from the mundane to the fantastic. J.K. Rolling used it well as have many other authors.

    Posted by Rafael
  13. June 19, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

    Just started Aprilynne’s book, “Wings.” It’s fun to see the launch of a new career! Best Wishes!

    Posted by Fiona
  14. August 1, 2009 @ 9:59 am

    I agree with the comment above that the reader must feel the characters do feel real. No matter what the audience, one must be able to put themselves in the characters shoes and imagine they are them, even if only for a moment in time.

    Posted by John Williams