Writing Excuses 5.22: Film Considerations

Mary Robinette Kowal and Dave Wolverton join Dan and Howard for a discussion of movie considerations and formulas. Dave explains the three-act structure to us, and we talk about how this applies for transitioning stories to the screen.

And on the subject of screens, Moses Siregar III of Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing captured us on video as we recorded this ‘cast. It’s up on YouTube.

We talk about taglines, and for an example Mary tells us that Shades of Milk and Honey would be pitched as “Jane Austen with magic.” She then relates to us the tale of how Lou Anders Hollywood formula saved the ending of her book.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Runelords, by David Farland, narrated by Ray Porter. The first four books in the series which are available now in audio format.

Writing Prompt: Come up with an eight-word tagline for your novel or short story. It needs to be pithy, punchy, memorable, and easily comprehensible.

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Writing Excuses 5.21: Alternate History

Mary Robinette Kowal and Eric Flint join Howard and Dan for a discussion of writing Alternate History. Eric divides the sub-genre into two categories for us. Dan adds a third category for us later. Summing up:

  1. Our history, but with a key change occurring (the “branching point.”)
  2. Our history, but with a time-traveler going back and changing something (aka “duck, Mister President!”)
  3. Our history, but with magic (usually with said magic being the key change at our branching point)

Mary’s first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, grew out of a love for Jane Austen’s work and a love for the fantasy genre. Eric’s alternate histories (including the wildly popular 1632 series) grow out of the fact that he enjoyed history enough to obtain a Master’s degree in it. Write what you know, and write what you’re passionate about.

During the second half of the ‘cast Eric and Mary give us advice on how to go about writing alternate history. We talk about research, about when to sweat the details and when not to, and about some of the biggest challenges Mary and Eric faced during these projects.

At 22 minutes and 39 seconds it’s clear that we ran a little long on this one.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week (Two-for-One): Crown of Slaves and Torch of Freedom, both by Eric Flint and David Weber. These books fit in Weber’s Honor Harrington universe, but don’t require you to have read all the Honor Harrington books.

Writing Prompt: Pick a major event in history that you love, and make it come out differently.

Session Notes: We recorded seven guest episodes while at the Superstars Writing Seminar in Salt Lake City. This is the first of these. Brandon was absent for the first three sessions, but joined us for the last four.

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Writing Excuses 5.20: More Dialog Exercises

The rules: Write dialog with no dialog tags and no narration. Write it in such a way that we get character, conflict, and setting. We did this a few weeks ago, and have more examples from you, our daring, sharing listeners!

We ran waaay long this time, but it’s okay because we spent a bunch of time reading the submissions. After each reading we discuss what went right and what went wrong, and what to learn from it.

Lots of principles come out of this, including avoiding Maid-and-Butler dialog, how to write natural banter, how to establish a character with that character’s voice, and how dialog-only, “white-room” pieces just can’t tell certain types of stories effectively.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Empire of the East, by Fred Saberhagen, narrated by Raymond Todd

Writing Prompt: Brandon decided to read the first two paragraphs of Empire of the East to us, because it’s all dialog and seemed to fit.

Special Guest Appearance: Howard’s pants. We haven’t heard from them in almost a month. They’re back.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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Assorted Administrivia: Hugo Nominations, WordPress Upgrade, and Superstars Seminar

First and foremost: a close examination of the rules for Hugo Nominations reveals that Writing Excuses Season 4 is eligible to be nominated under the “Best Related Work” category. If you attended WorldCon in Melbourne, or if you already have your Renovation membership, you’re eligible to do some nominating. So, for your consideration, Writing Excuses Season 4. It ran from January 2010 through August 2010, and the full content is available online at this site. The easiest way to surf it all is to use the date widgets over in the right sidebar. But for heaven’s sake don’t do it all in one sitting. Those episodes probably add up to at least nine full hours of us not being that smart because you’re in a hurry.

Secondly: We just performed a WordPress upgrade, and upgraded the plugins we use as well. If you see weirdness, let us know so we can figure out what we broke. (And by “we” we actually mean “Howard.”)

Third: This Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we’ll be variously attending (Dan and Howard) and presenting (Brandon) at the Superstars Writing Seminar in Salt Lake City. We hope to record a few interview episodes while there, because the list of presenters for that event is pretty stellar.

Writing Excuses 5.19: Fulfilling Promises to Your Readers

Last week we wormcanned “fulfilling promises to the reader,” so this week we’ll tackle the discussion using actual examples. We start with a deconstruction of The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, which Howard wrote and illustrated in 2008 and 2009. We then spoil the story of the game Borderlands, talking about the woefully-unfulfilled promise made to the player. We also spoil Legion for you, but that film kind of ruined itself. A lot. At any rate, in both of these latter cases we talk about the promises being broken.

Then we talk about how we, as writers, know when we’re making promises to the reader, and what those promises are.

Dan talks about how, in the first draft of I Am Not a Serial Killer, the main character won out in the wrong way, and how he had to go back and fix the ending. He also talks about the biggest complaint anybody has with that book, and how that stems from the plot twist that, to some readers, breaks a promise inherent in the book’s genre. And that leads us into a discussion of Million Dollar Baby and of the first outline of Mistborn, which could have had a very, very disappointing ending.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, narrated by Adam Grupper

Writing Prompt: Pick a typical promise that a child might make, and use that as the promise you’re making to your readers.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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Writing Excuses 5.18: Offending Your Readers

Send your angry emails to Howard, because this was totally his idea.

This is a discussion of avoiding unnecessary offense. Sometimes, especially in humorous works, offense is a required risk, so that’s not where we’re going here. We’re going to talk about the sorts of things we sometimes do that offend our readers, and how we can prevent those sorts of elements from entering into our writing — at least into our final drafts.

Some of the offenses we might offer include talking down to the reader, certain racial and gender demographics, poor representation of a particular culture and/or gender (anyone remember RaceFail from two years ago?), straw men, potemkin villages, open moralizing, and breaking the promises we make to our readers.

Book of the Week: Dragon’s Ring by Dave Freer, available now in paperback from Baen Books. Ask for it by name at the bookstore.

Inspiration for This Podcast: A completely unrelated request from Oletta.

Howard’s New Band Name: “Nuke The Blue Monkeys”

Writing Prompt: Start with hard science-fiction, move to werewolf romance.


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