By Writing Excuses | May 5, 2013 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Pacing, Prose, Scenes, Season 8

Blocking! What is it, why is it important, and how can you do it well?

We begin with a definition (blocking is the part of the narrative that tells the reader where the characters are, where the scenery is, and how these things are interacting) and then talk about why it’s important, especially how it applies to “show, don’t tell,” and how the needs of the story will dictate what actually needs to be shown.

Finally, we discuss how to block scenes effectively, and how each of us do it.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Monster Hunter Alpha, by Larry Correia, narrated by Oliver Wyman

Writing Prompt: Write a fight scene. Bonus points if it's got four people in it. We don't know what you'll spend those points on.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 5th, 2013 at 6:00 pm and is filed under Pacing, Prose, Scenes, Season 8. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

32 Comments

  1. May 5, 2013 @ 7:42 pm


    Great podcast. Here’s my fight scene:

    Shutting down his wristband computer with a flick he doubled his speed back to berth seven to find a Ragothonian trying to hack the ships boarding ramp controls while two others watched, telescopic stun batons in hand.

    Stepping into the hanger bay he said, “I’d be really careful hacking the controls. One mistake and you will trip the emergency airlock doors. Then you will never get in with anything less than heavy machinery, which you don’t seem to have.”

    Ignoring the other thugs retort Folkvarden casually strolled towards his ship. The nearest Ragothonian ran towards him, aiming his baton at his ribs. Gracefully Folkvarden spun aside grabbing the other’s wrist and using his momentum to flip him to the ground. Twisting the arm back the assailant screamed and and dropped the stun baton. Plucking it out of the air Folkvarden spun towards the oncoming opponent knocking his baton out of the way. In that split second opening Folkvarden used his free hand to punch the Ragothonian in the throat, crushing the trachea. Letting the body fall he stepped towards the hacker.

    “You’re making a big mistake.”

    Smiling, Folkvarden tossed the stun baton aside and said, “It doesn’t feel like a mistake.”

    “You don’t know who your dealing with. They would cut a bloody swath across this section of the galaxy to get at what the Vox knows,” the hacker paused and then added, “I could cut you in for twenty percent. It would be enough to replace this rust bucket with money to spare.”

    “I swear. Trouble must be hard coded into the Brisbane family tree,” Folkvarden thought, while saying, “Tell the people you work for that I don’t sell out my friends or my passengers.”

    “A shame,” the hacker said, eyes darting towards the door and then back to Folkvarden.

    Continuing to stroll towards the Alruna, he smiled in satisfaction as the hacker ducked under the side of the ship and bolted for the door.

    Posted by David Lein
  2. May 6, 2013 @ 12:13 am


    Three Korveki Biowasps descended through the hole in the ceiling. Sargent Mileson took a shocked step backward, tripping over one of the countless bodies that littered the floor. Somehow the space station still maintained its structural integrity, there was still enough air for the ‘wasps to fly.

    They spread out in standard encircling formation. One left, one right and the other straight up the gut. Mileson’s scatter caster was low on ammo, perhaps one full second of full auto fire remained. He brought the barrel up and sprayed right to left, but these ‘wasps were not stupid animals. Animals, surely, just not stupid. As soon as they saw his gun arm move they switched levels.

    Mileson was able to cut through two of them in a line, but the middle one advanced unscathed. It hit him full force in the chest. Latching on with all six of its claws. Its tail stinger hammering away at his guts. An unarmored man would have died instantly but Mileson sported a top of the line skin suit. Everywhere the stinger drove home, the suit hardened to deflect the blow. His guts were taking a beating but he was not in immediate danger.

    The real danger was the mandible. Razor sharp with corrosive saliva, the biowasp mandible could crack open a hover tank given enough time. Mileson kept both hands on the thing’s neck as it snapped and spit, covering his face mask with slow acting acid.

    They stalemated in that position for several seconds, but the hammering to his torso was taking its toll. Mileson felt himself weakening, the snaps of the creature’s mandible growing closer and closer, tireless in its effort to carve him to pieces. In desperation Mileson released the creature’s neck and tried to roll to his right, hoping to shake the ‘wasp off.

    He failed to dislodge it but was able to bring up his knee to defend his abdomen and provide some space between him and the side ways snapping of the thing’s mandibles. Looking around he saw a corpse with a knife sticking out of its eye. Gruesome for the dead man but a chance for Mileson to live. Inching his way to the corpse with his free leg and patiently keeping the biowasp at bay, he was able to release the creature for a moment with one hand, grab the blade and drive it up through the neck and head of the beast.

    The creature spasmed and died, releasing its grasp. Mileson kicked it away as hard as he could, sending it rolling several feet. Even a dead biowasp would still strike with its stinger, its decentralized nervous system still firing on automatic for several minutes.

    Mileson removed his face mask, no thoroughly scored by corrosive spit, and tossed it away. He took a replacement mask off a dead comrade, as well as a full reload for his scatter caster, and started to move forward through the bay. As an afterthought he went over to the still spasming ‘wasp, blew away its stinger with his scatter caster, and removed the knife from its head.

    You never know when you might need a good knife.

    Posted by Jo
  3. May 6, 2013 @ 12:21 am


    @David – Nice trachea crush. I love those. Also is your protagonist named Folkvarden Brisbane? That’s fantastic.

    I think I may have messed up my writing prompt. I only had 1 ‘person’ and 2 of the assailants died quick.

    Posted by Jo
  4. May 6, 2013 @ 7:14 am


    Actually it’s just Folkvarden. Brisbane is the Vox. I lifted this section from chapter one so it’s little out of context in regards to who’s who.

    @Jo – Awesome! Really like the ending.

    Posted by David Lein
  5. May 6, 2013 @ 8:28 am


    Brandon wondered if the White Space generator was worth the expense.

    He ducked as another dark blob resolved from the fog into a fist. He deflected the attacker’s extended arm upward with his own forearm, and launched a series of kidney punches at the place she had to be. One connected, but only a glancing blow. She was quite nimble. As quick as she came, she fell back into the White Space’s mist.

    It wasn’t really mist, just a random holographic pattern designed to interfere with stealth suits. It didn’t even look like a mist, really, just a blank white space that extended onto the horizon. The chairs, desks, and computers of the lab were all rendered invisible by the effect, but it was the only way to defeat the stealth suits. Well, except for the old “Thud and Blunder” technique of fighting by sound alone.

    Of course, the field wasn’t doing a very good job of defeating this one.

    The breacher, most likely a highly-trained operative nicknamed the Koala, had already taken down two of Brandon’s fellow guards. Howard had gone down before the field had even been activated. He’d been sitting at the desk nearest the clean room door that Brandon now guarded, stealthed but otherwise unwary. Although Brandon hadn’t been able to see the attack, he’d heard snap of a Taser just before the alarm went off.

    With the alarm, the White Space generator came on, but Jordo was already shouting in pain before the field had snapped into place. He was probably still screaming, but Brandon had cut his audio feed when he’d dialed up the microphones to listen for his attacker. He wasn’t sure where Dan was, but Dan was likely doing the same thing.

    Not for the first time, Brandon wondered if maybe it was time for him to take that transfer out of security services.

    The White Space parted again, a fuzzy form coming at him in a leap. He ducked to the side, and spun a kick at her back as she went by. A satisfying thud sounded as his boot connected, but the clatter when she hit the wall sounded more like plastic and metal than cloth and flesh.

    He launched at the form, already fading as it stopped moving, and tackled a rolling desk chair. He and the chair smacked loudly into the clean room’s thick glass door.

    Someone struck him from behind. She didn’t start with the Taser this time. The suit Brandon wore could take a lot of juice. Only by overcharging a Taser could it get through the body armor and it was usually only good for one shot. It didn’t much matter as she managed to get an arm around his throat.

    Brandon struggled for air as he thrashed his body. The body armor’s neck guard prevented a perfect hold on his throat, but he could feel panic setting in as he fought. Air wheezed through his mouth, but slowly, ever so slowly.

    He grabbed the chair for purchase, but it rolled with him. He twisted a bit further, turning his back more squarely upon his opponent, and sacrificing the last bit of air that he could reach. He also brought his legs between him and the chair. It could roll side-to-side, but it was up against the clean room door.

    He kicked and knocked his attacker back. They both slammed into the ground and Brandon could breath again as she loosed her grip. A couple of elbow strikes into ribs and Brandon rolled completely free. They both ignored the sound of shattering glass.

    He turned, grappling with his attacker. Only then did he realize that she was a he. Tentatively, Brandon turned Dan’s volume back up, and heard grunts of effort and pain.

    “Dammit,” he said, pinging Dan’s visor for his attention. Even as he did, he felt a pair of metal needles press into his side and he turned his head. For a moment, just before the Taser’s voltage erased his memory of it, he saw the Koala’s face. He couldn’t see details through the fog, but he could see her hair flowing freely, her mask apparently removed and suit powered down.

    Posted by TerryU
  6. May 6, 2013 @ 11:33 am


    Something that always irks me in epic fantasy (other genres too it’s just most prevalent in large scope battles)is something Mary touched on when talking about how many cups of coffee do you really think a person can drink before going to the hospital or how much whiskey etc. In epic fantasy I have noticed that there is thing kind of reverse deus ex machina where enemy’s armies numbers are seemingly endless. I saw this a lot in Wheel of Time where book after book Rand and his buddies fight this decisive battle over the trollocs and slay like 100,000 of them only to find that this battle wasn’t decisive at all because the enemy has reserves all over the globe and they never die out. This with the Aiel especially, they slaughtered thousands upon thousands crushing the recalcitrant Aiel tribe (can’t remember their name) with all the Asha’man and yet when that tribe was beaten they still had like 100,000 of them that regrouped and took Perrin’s wife captive and on and on. If you’re blocking well and you tell your reader that you just won this decisive victory over your enemy then it feels cheap to me when I find out that the enemy still has a boundless supply of cannon fodder pawns he can throw at you in subsequent books. You feel you are not getting a good scope of what the other army is really like so I don’t know if this is a dirty trick or a flub up on blocking but I find it to be really annoying.

    Posted by merryxmas
  7. May 6, 2013 @ 12:43 pm


    [...] Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 8.18: Blocking [...]

  8. May 6, 2013 @ 1:56 pm


    Nedina was almost home now. It was left up here and then only a short way up the same old street. The first thing to do would be to pick up her overturned pots and salvage what was salvagable. She had had no time for that earlier in the day because of her special delivery. Now, after working all night it was time to get that sorted out and continue as if nothing had happened.

    Suddenly she felt someone grab her from behind. She struggled to get free. She tried to shout, but a hand covered her mouth and only muffled noises came out. The arm holding her was tremendously strong. Nedina tried to reach for one of her knives.
    “Quiet, stop flailing about”, the attacker said quietly. She recogniced that voice and stopped struggling.
    “Luca”, she said “what are you doing”?
    He put his finger to his lips “sshhh” and said “look there, just to the right of your door”.
    At first she couldn’t take her eyes from his lips. There was a red colour on them that she hadn’t noticed before. Then she looked at her door and towards the right side of it. There was a shine in head height as of that you’d get from the reflection of a helmet. When she looked closer she could see that the man in the helmet was looking at something inside her store.

    Without warning the person with the helmet opened the door and two more men followed him entering the building. Nedina was not aware of running until she was half-way to the building. She drew a knife and prepared herself for what was to come. What she hadn’t counted on was Luca who sprinted past her in an incredible speed.

    When she reached the doorway there was only one of the intruders still standing. She slashed out with her knife and the last one toppled backwards with a gurgling sound and blood poured from his slit throat. Nedina surveyed the room. There were three men with unshaven faces on the floor. One of them with armor. Thugs for hire, she thought. Then she a fourth, more civilised, person with a blue embroidered cloak covering most of his face. Who was he and what had he been doing in her store. He was knocked out now but would hopefully soon come around.

    Nedina went into her back room and found some of the come round brew that she’d delivered to the bellowing boulder. There they used it when drunks who’d passed out needed to get home. She hoped that it would work for this as well.
    “Hold open his mouth”, she told Luca. She poured the liquid into the strangers mouth and massaged his throat to make him swallow. After an involuntary coughing spasm the stranger swallowed a couple of mouthfuls.

    “There, he should be awake in a little while”, she said.
    “We have to get rid of these thugs”, she continued “Luca help me drag them out to the wagon.” They dragged the limp bodies out the back and heaved them up onto the old wagon.
    “Luca, go get the last one” she said.

    Luca left and she looked on the two dead people lying on the wagon. There was no blood on these two. One had his chest pushed in and when she felt his chest she felt little resistance and heard only a crunching of splintered bones that ones had been a rib cage. Too bad for him that he wore no armor, she thought. Then she felt his chest again. What force did it take to make such a damage on a person. She looked on the other guard. His face was completely destroyed from the right eye down to his chin. What is this, she wondered. Did sweet innocent Luca do this? she wondered. He is just a bakers assistant, she thought to herself. She countered with another thought. Yes, and you are just a spice merchant.

    Where was he, he should be back outside with the one that she had carved a southern smile on. I’d better go look for him. She went back inside and stopped. The stranger had woken now, but that was not what caught her attention. The thing she saw and couldn’t believe was the sight of Luca. He sat on his knees in front of the last thug, lapping at the blood formed at the neck sliced just as the neighbor cat used to do when drinking milk.

    Posted by Tomas
  9. May 6, 2013 @ 2:11 pm


    Oh man I spotted a couple of things that was wrong in my scene above.
    1 Then she a fourth, more civilised, person – should have “saw” as the third word
    2 I did 2 “she wondered” right after one another towards the end
    3 In the last sentence “sliced” is on the wrong side of “neck”

    As you can see I copy-pasted some things and mistakes happened. I hope you can overlook that.

    Posted by Tomas
  10. May 6, 2013 @ 8:36 pm


    @merryxmas
    While I agree with the general issue of limitless hordes of enemies concept, Wheel of Time isn’t the greatest example of this. You raised two issues – Trolloc hordes, particularly in the last few books, are absurdly large, and the Shaido (Aiel traitors) seem to have regenerative capabilities that rival Forgotten Realms’ trolls.

    Trollocs are bioengineered cannon fodder. They were designed to provide the Shadow a limitless supply of front line troops. Given the Age of Legends technology and level of One Power (and later True Power, which was probably used in their creation as well/instead) capabilities, it seems reasonable that you could make monsters that breed like rabbits. If you’ve ever seen an area try to exterminate a rabbit population, you’ll understand the problem when the rabbits are now 9 feet tall, have swords and really like using them. (That kinda conjures a rather absurd image, but I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.) There’s still the matter of providing sufficient nutrition to make them grow that much and be that strong, but (MoL spoiler) that ends up being exploited at part of the Last Battle. It’s possible the Power helped make them very efficient at processing nutrients, and that the Shadow had food stores that were not effected by Shai’tan’s rot curse (not sure if he’d have discretion over that, but it seems probable.) Plus, when there really is a god in the machine, deus ex machina is at least somewhat forgivable. And Shai’tan is a god…just not a good one.

    As for the Shaido, the reason they are so elastic is threefold. One: reading the earlier books, it’s fairly evident that the Shaido are a particularly large clan. At Cairhien, Rand has at least 4 clans and still has to worry about strategic and tactical considerations in that battle – 4 to 1 odds on the open field, assuming similar training, are generally considered crushing, so that gives the impression that the Shaido are fielding a larger army than the other clans. Two: the other Aiel clans send their warriors into the wetlands to support Rand; the Shaido packed up and moved, man, woman and child. While it’s safe to say that the

    Posted by Rashkavar
  11. May 6, 2013 @ 8:54 pm


    …why did that just spontaneously post? My hand was not near any relevant keys… Whatever.

    …While it’s safe to say that the Aiel in general have a much larger warrior population than most populations, it’s still probable that there is a large percentage of the population that did not fight in their early battles. Some would have picked up the spear after the defeat at Cairhien, more after Dumai’s Wells, and the rest out of necessity when scattered in small groups by….was it Demandred who did that, or Moridin? I can’t remember. Third: Rand’s little revelation about the origin of the Aiel has a dramatic effect on the morale of his troops. Many of them desert and join the rest of the Aiel standing against Rand. So they effectively have a constant influx of reinforcements. How they get all the way from Rand’s standing armies in the eastern nations (Cairhien, Tear and Illian) to where Perrin’s wife is kidnapped in Ghealdelan (likely spelled that one wrong) remains a mystery, but Aiel are supposed to be effective at moving very quickly and not being noticed. A fourth reason is pointing out that the whole issue with Perrin and the Shaido is during the worst part of the series. Robert Jordan’s writing kinda faltered after book 6, when the Asha’man crushed the Shaido, and things were pretty bleak in books 9 and 10. Knife of Dreams did a pretty good job of wrapping up a lot of the loose ends that had just trickled through the last couple of books at a snail’s pace, and you’ll note that the Shaido are rather efficiently and finally dealt with in that book. Oh….another in-story reason – Dumai’s wells is written as a rout, not an extermination. If you were an army of spearmen and a regiment of magi popped out of midair and started blowing you up, you’d start running long before you’d taken massive casualties…even without the legends of said magi going nuts and pretty much literally destroying the world the last time they gathered in force.

    Posted by Rashkavar
  12. May 6, 2013 @ 10:32 pm


    Biff! Bam! Pow! And as the fighter races down the metallic canyon, a voice echoes in Luke’s brain, “Trust the Farce, Luke. Trust the Farce!”

    Well, anyway… a transcript! No blocking, just the words. Go ahead, add beats and show us how the Writing Excuses crew dances around the room. A grand jete!

    http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/74213.html

    Posted by 'nother Mike
  13. May 7, 2013 @ 1:17 am


    Long time listener, first time commenter. I want to say about how deus ex machina caused by bad blocking was a large part of me giving up reading for a good part of a decade.

    I still remember the book. I won’t name the author or the book, but what I will say is it was during the Goosebumps fad that swept through Britain in the 90s, but one of off brand series along the same lines. The story was about 2 boys were alone in a farm house where all the animals had come down with a case of the crazy and were trying to kill them. In one tense moment, the 2 boys locked themselves in the upstairs bathroom, but the horse started to kick the door down. Then, out of nowhere, one of the boys reached up, pulled a cord that lowered a ladder to the attic and they made their escape just in time.

    I remember feeling cheated, and having little interest in what happened for the rest of the story (I think I was close to the end). I don’t know if I missed something, if my memory is off, or something else. As said, I never re-read it, but I think I might do so.

    What stuck in my mind so strongly was something that I (wrongly) assumed only the written word could get away with. Making a trap door, a weapon or whatever else the story required just appear out of thin air and say “Oh, that was always there. I just didn’t happen to describe that part of the room to you. Ha!”. These days I know better of course.

    I think it’s telling that I still remember my reaction and the scene that caused it 15 years later.

    Also, I want to say I agree with point merryxmas made, but for different reasons. Having thousands of people per side per battle is something that is kind of annoying for me not because of it being implausible, but because it seems to be done for “epic scale”. It often feels like a small fight between tens of people, but the author decided to add some extra zeros for “epic-ness”.

    Posted by Sabre
  14. May 7, 2013 @ 9:36 am


    I guess this got lost to the WordPress gods: Here goes another attempted post.

    Brandon wondered if the White Space generator was worth the expense.

    He ducked as another dark blob resolved from the fog into a fist. He deflected the attacker’s extended arm upward with his own forearm, and launched a series of kidney punches at the place she had to be. One connected, but only a glancing blow. She was quite nimble. As quick as she came, she fell back into the White Space’s mist.

    It wasn’t really mist, just a random holographic pattern designed to interfere with stealth suits. It didn’t even look like a mist, really, just a blank white space that extended onto the horizon. The chairs, desks, and computers of the lab were all rendered invisible by the effect, but it was the only way to defeat the stealth suits. Well, except for the old “Thud and Blunder” technique of fighting by sound alone.

    Of course, the field wasn’t doing a very good job of defeating this one.

    The breacher, most likely a highly-trained operative nicknamed the Koala, had already taken down two of Brandon’s fellow guards. Howard had gone down before the field had even been activated. He’d been sitting at the desk nearest the clean room door that Brandon now guarded, stealthed but otherwise unwary. Although Brandon hadn’t been able to see the attack, he’d heard snap of a Taser just before the alarm went off.

    With the alarm, the White Space generator came on, but Jordo was already shouting in pain before the field had snapped into place. He was probably still screaming, but Brandon had cut his audio feed when he’d dialed up the microphones to listen for his attacker. He wasn’t sure where Dan was, but Dan was likely doing the same thing.

    Not for the first time, Brandon wondered if maybe it was time for him to take that transfer out of security services.

    The White Space parted again, a fuzzy form coming at him in a leap. He ducked to the side, and spun a kick at her back as she went by. A satisfying thud sounded as his boot connected, but the clatter when she hit the wall sounded more like plastic and metal than cloth and flesh.

    He launched at the form, already fading as it stopped moving, and tackled a rolling desk chair. He and the chair smacked loudly into the clean room’s thick glass door.

    Someone struck him from behind. She didn’t start with the Taser this time. The suit Brandon wore could take a lot of juice. Only by overcharging a Taser could it get through the body armor and it was usually only good for one shot. It didn’t much matter as she managed to get an arm around his throat.

    Brandon struggled for air as he thrashed his body. The body armor’s neck guard prevented a perfect hold on his throat, but he could feel panic setting in as he fought. Air wheezed through his mouth, but slowly, ever so slowly.

    He grabbed the chair for purchase, but it rolled with him. He twisted a bit further, turning his back more squarely upon his opponent, and sacrificing the last bit of air that he could reach. He also brought his legs between him and the chair. It could roll side-to-side, but it was up against the clean room door.

    He kicked and knocked his attacker back. They both slammed into the ground and Brandon could breath again as she loosed her grip. A couple of elbow strikes into ribs and Brandon rolled completely free. They both ignored the sound of shattering glass.

    He turned, grappling with his attacker. Only then did he realize that she was a he. Tentatively, Brandon turned Dan’s volume back up, and heard grunts of effort and pain.

    “Dammit,” he said, pinging Dan’s visor for his attention. Even as he did, he felt a pair of metal needles press into his side and he turned his head. For a moment, just before the Taser’s voltage erased his memory of it, he saw the Koala’s face. He couldn’t see details through the fog, but he could see her hair flowing freely, her mask apparently removed and suit powered down.

    Posted by Terry
  15. May 7, 2013 @ 1:47 pm


    First, Terry, that was disturbing and awesome.

    Second, wonderful podcast. I definitely have a problem with blocking, so it was wonderful to hear how the Writing Excuses crew treats it.

    Third, since other people posted the product of their writing prompts…

    ***Sun wasn’t wasting any time in his ascent. He was usually such a lazy god, late to rise this time of year, and slow to climb the sky. First the crowds denied Idalyn food, now that worthless god was going to deny her shade. Filth and fallow, Idalyn thought, this was probably the work of that priestess. She must have approached Sun, and Sun ran up the sky just to get away from her.

    Idalyn’s hovel was out in the eighth construction, more than a long walk from the first construction, where Sun’s priests distributed a portion of grain to the poor. To the poor, but not to foreign dignitaries who arrived riding on the back of a godbeast. Filth and fallow, those priests were in need of a good and violent beating.

    It should have been early morning, still, but sweat was already running down Idalyn’s wind-burnt face. There was no way she’d schlep all the way back there, just to get out of the sun. Besides, the hovels soaked up heat like a Jatarethian soaked up liquor. They smelled as bad, too. Instead, Idalyn headed for the third construction’s central garden. That probably wasn’t too crowded, yet, and the third construction sometimes caught a nice breeze coming up from the farmlands. It was cooling and pleasant, as long as one didn’t mind the dust and smell of dung.

    A woman screamed, but the sound was cut off short. The people in front of Idalyn hurried in the opposite direction, their mindless chatter silenced, and their headed turned only forward, away from whatever unpleasantness might be unfolding. Damn incurious people.

    Idalyn felt the strap of her faux-fan and flipped the weapon into her hand. The weight of it gave her a sense of safety. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the sound, overlaying it on an image of the plaza in her mind. It had sounded like the scream had come from in front of her, somewhere. Idalyn opened her eyes, pulled up her dress, and ran forward. Her worn slippers slide against the sand, grinding it down into the stone, slowing her down and making her feel unbalanced. Oh Winter, why hadn’t she worn boots?

    The streets emptied quickly. If the Jatarethian armies could hide as quickly and totally as its peasants, they could march against the world and win. As Idalyn ran, she glanced down each alleyway and side street, but saw only trash and refuse. The scream didn’t have the muffled sound of originating indoors, though by now whoever had made it might have been moved. There should have been people in those alleys. Beggars, at least. Urchins too. Places like that weren’t supposed to be empty during the middle of the day.

    Only the sound of Idalyn’s slippers grinding against the sandstone broke the silence. She stopped and listened. No, not all those sounds were coming from her. She tilted her head again and tried to focus. There, the next street up.

    Idalyn rounded the corner and slide to a stop. The street was narrow. Perhaps in the past it had been wide enough to drive a cart through, but now filth filled it and caked the walls, hiding the whitewashed buildings. Not far from her, on the ground, there was a woman-sized lump of clothes, flesh, and blood. It wasn’t moving. Idalyn tried to force herself to only see it as a lump. Seeing a lump on the ground was nothing, it was every day. Nothing worth the distraction. Focus on the danger.

    Three men were gathered around the lump. One of them was kneeling next to it, his sun-blackened arms stretched out and his hands around the lump’s neck. Lumps had necks, that was perfectly natural. The second man was standing at the other side of lump, his pants down and a knife in his hands. The third was the shortest of the lot, but stood between Idalyn and the lump itself. His bald head was turned towards her. Or, more exactly, towards the sound of someone approaching. He held a large hunk of wood at his side that might have been a table leg, once, several murders ago.

    They didn’t even have enough shame to hide their deed.

    Baldy grunted at his cohorts and jerked his head towards Idalyn. The man with the knife looked up, shrugged. He stepped out of his pants, kicked them aside, then started to crawl on top of the lump. Blackened Skin got up, though, and with his hands out of the way, Idalyn could see the lump’s face. A woman’s face. Her eyes were open, but they didn’t move.

    No, a lump’s face, Idalyn told herself. Not a person’s.

    It didn’t matter what she told herself, though. Her corset was too tight, but it let her feel her heart rate increase. The back of her mind screamed at her, shoving images of her own face on the lump. Her training bent, but it didn’t break. She was a Harunder. She was Idalyn, ruler of Whitecreek. She was a servant of the goddess Winter. Against the likes of her, what could thugs do? The bluster was shallow, but there wasn’t a chance for her to probe it.

    The two men advanced on Idalyn. Now that he was standing, she could tell that Blackened Skin had a full head of height on her. That was unfortunate, deathly unfortunate. But Baldy was closer to her, and armed. Him first.

    Baldy brought his club up for a swing, but Idalyn stepped forward and she slammed her faux-fan against his arm. The wood casing of her weapon splintered, but it had bent the man’s arm, and not at the joint, either. She didn’t know if he screamed. He pulled back, and that was all she had time to notice.

    Blackened Skin was too close, now. He grabbed her neck, and Idalyn hit him on the side of his head with her fan, splitting open his ear. The wood casing fell off the fan, revealing the thick metal baton underneath. Blackended Skin didn’t let go, though. Idalyn had just moments: already panic and a lack of air made her vision narrow. She kneed him in his filth. His grip tightened. She did it again, and again, until there was nothing recognizable between his legs, and only then did he let go.

    Idalyn gasped. Too little air came in, but that was a problem for forty seconds from now. She brought her baton up and jammed it into Blackened Skin’s face, breaking his nose and coating herself in blood. He crumpled to the ground. She gasped again. A little more came in, but she felt light headed.

    She saw the blur of wood and Baldy’s club slammed into her back. Her whale-bone corset saved her own bones from breaking, but blow pushed her forward. She tripped over Blackened Skin’s body and fell into Pantsless. They tumbled along the ground, and though Idalyn couldn’t tell what was sky and what was ground, she could tell what was knife. She bite his wrist and tore off flesh. Bile rose up in him mouth and she spat both it and the flesh out. Pantsless had dropped the knife, and she managed to thrown it down the alley, away from them all. She hadn’t trained with blades: better to get it out of the fight than keep it as a liability.

    This time she heard the scream. Pantsless pushed her off him and they stood up at the same time. He held his wrist, and blood seeped around his hands. There was surprise in his face. In fact, Idalyn noticed, there was little but surprise. No scars, no burns, no bruises. Pantsless had probably never had someone fight back.

    Idalyn spread her feet and took a firm stance, the unconscious or dead woman under her. She glanced behind her and saw Baldy, broken arm limp at his side, but club in his good hand. He was advancing again. Pantsless backed up. To Baldy, then.

    Idalyn flipped her baton back into her hand, slipped the strap off, and threw it. Baldy was slow: it hit him in the eye, causing him to clutch at his face. Idalyn scooped up the fallen club and hit him in the head. Through the weapon, she could feel the vibrations of his skull cracking. He went down, and the vibrations made her feel sick. That was a problem for ten seconds from now.

    The edges of Idalyn’s vision were turning dark. She tried to force air into her lungs, but it was hard going. Club in hand, she turned to look at Pantsless. He paused, then backed away, leaving his friends, victim, and pants behind.

    Now Idalyn could worry about breathing and vomiting.

    Posted by J D Tolson
  16. May 7, 2013 @ 7:49 pm


    Lol, I assumed this space was for doing the prompt…but I guess it’s more for discussing the podcast. Meh. I’ll continue to do my prompt practicing here. It helps me get over my shyness.

    Posted by Jo
  17. May 7, 2013 @ 7:54 pm


    @Terry – I’m sure some point in the future I’ll use the phrase “Thud and Blunder” as if I made it up myself, forgetting where I heard it. ;-)

    Posted by Jo
  18. May 8, 2013 @ 10:23 am


    @Jo, if I’m following Terry correctly, that’s a reference to Poul Anderson’s old essay about exaggeration and slapdashery in Sword and Sorcery fiction. Basically, it refers to fantasy worlds that couldn’t possibly exist, where the economics are ridiculous, the magic silly, the culture ill-thought out, the religion tacked on, the physics impossible, and the heroes win largely by deus ex machina (thud and blundering their way to a victory when they’re fighting blind, for example). I find the juxtapositioning of Terry’s use quite delightful, since Brandon goes to such efforts to avoid the very things that define Thud and Blunder, and yet, if taken out of context, some of the fight scenes in Mistborn could appear similar to the sort that Poul lamented. In short, Brandon came very close at points, but delightfully subverted the trope, and Terry seems to be winking at this fact.

    Posted by J D Tolson
  19. May 8, 2013 @ 10:25 am


    (First, sorry for the double post on my earlier story. If an admin would like to remove one, I wouldn’t mind.)

    @Jo: I can’t take credit for “Thud and Blunder”, it’s actually an old dig at heroic epic fantasy coined by Poul Anderson in a phenomenal essay criticizing shallowly written heroic fantasy stories. It’s a play on the trope curse used in a lot of that style of fiction, “Blood and Thunder.”

    There was a general perception among readers of mundane fiction that all fantasy and science fiction was of this shallow type, so, inevitably, a lot of readers embraced the term.

    Posted by Terry
  20. May 8, 2013 @ 10:29 am


    *Smiles* What J D Tolson said! In all honesty, I like Brandon’s stories precisely because they avoid this trope.

    Posted by Terry
  21. May 8, 2013 @ 3:33 pm


    Well now. I learn something knew every day.

    Posted by Jo
  22. May 8, 2013 @ 3:49 pm


    An awesome podcast. Blocking is something I need to work on and this one came at a good time so thanks very much. As for fighting scenes, the best one I’ve ever read is in Larry Correia’s forth Monster Hunter Book, Legion.

    Posted by Jim
  23. May 9, 2013 @ 5:56 am


    Inglemar walked alone through the village, there had been three moons since his arrival and he was starting to feel that he was wasting his time. His search would have to continue elsewhere, he always thought that it would be difficult if not impossible to resurrect the dead, but he had to find them first and that was proving far more difficult than expected. His evening walk had become a habit, the villagers very rarely left their homes after dark, so it gave him the time to think and mull over the mistakes he had made in the past. Some of those mistakes had cost lives, all at his own hand, young fools thinking that an old man couldn’t move quickly in armour, trying to show that they were the Descendents, born for war, raised with the sole purpose of riding into battle. Stopping he stood and stared at the valley, lit up along the ridgeline of the mountains by moonlight, he had often thought it was a very defendable position. The valley had two entrances, one at either end, both almost identical narrow passes. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that the village sat neatly in the middle, an attacking force could be held at either pass while the villagers escaped through the other, it would only take around fifty well trained men, he smiled at the thought that ten of the Undefeated army could do the same job.
    “Are you going to watch me all night or are you going to speak?” Inglemar turned slowly to see who had ventured out in the dark, “Ah!” he couldn’t hide his shock that the old man stood so close, his hands resting gently in the stick planted in front of him. Inglemar had expected one of the children, out to ask for more stories of the great battles. But Conn, he lived in the woods on the hillside and he hadn’t been in the village this evening. He had always given Inglemar a wide berth, keeping his distance and never staying too long when Inglemar started to tell his stories. Inglemar was on edge, “What do want Conn, a story to help your old bones rest?”
    “I haven’t come to converse, but to warn, you’re been here long enough Inglemar Karel-Damaar!” Again, Inglemar couldn’t hide his shock and took half a step back, his hand covering his thigh knife, or where it should have been! “Yes, I know exactly who you are and why you’re here, but it ends tonight, the dead are dead and cannot be resurrected!”
    “What is your name; you’re real name mind, not the one you’ve taken on?”
    “You’ll know me as Hari Taka-Ammon.”
    “Lord General Taka-Ammon!” Inglemar dropped onto one knee, his head bowed slightly to keep the old man in sight, “So I have found you, and the rest of the command; they are here?”
    “Stop this foolishness, there is no command or Lord General or Undefeated army!” The former general took a challenging step towards Inglemar.
    “There is if you command it,” Inglemar lifted his head, “you can command a resurrection of the dead. It has happened before in times of great need.” Standing he rose his voice as he spoke, “The dead were commanded and the rode to battle once more, to die the death of no return, by the Lord General’s order!”
    “I will not make this order, we have been dead too long.” The old man shook his head in denial.
    “It’s true you have been dead too long, a new Lord General is needed!” Inglemar stared at the old man intently, quickly deciding that he was too frail to prevent Inglemar assuming his command, it wouldn’t take too long, and once his head was on a spike, the dead would follow at his command. He took a step forward! Conn lifted his hands letting the stick topple to one side; his foot caught it, flicking it up towards Inglemar’s face. Inglemar caught sight of the walking stick at the last second, blocking it with his hand. Conn used the distraction and closed the gap between them, driving his foot into Inglemar’s thigh, using it as a step to lift the rest of his body up, spinning to kicking his heel into his face. Staggering back Inglemar lifted his hand to his face, feeling the blood he could now taste in his mouth, his nose was broken! That could be ignored, worse had been ignored in the past, this would be no different. Inglemar had a different fighting style to his former Lord General’s, being physically bigger he had always used his size to grapple and overpower his opponents, against his opponents quicker striking style. Rushing at Conn, he blocked his flailing hands with his arms searching for an opportunity to grasp a hold. The old man was much quicker than he anticipated, the thought that still practiced passed through his mind, blows were starting to make contact, nothing his body couldn’t take. Each time his hand caught a hold of Conn’s clothing, hard fingers bit into the back of it forcing his hand open, while Conn slid out of reach. Suddenly Conn stepped to the side catching Inglemar’s wrist and striking his forearm between the wrist and elbow, the crack of breaking bone was drowned out by Inglemar’s own cry. The next blow was to the outside of Inglemar’s knee, driving him to the ground, lifting his head he stared at Conn, he was going to die!
    “Do you think you were the first to challenge me?”
    Inglemar’s mouth opened to respond, but no sound came out as Conn’s fingers dug into his throat tearing his windpipe free through his flesh. Inglemar crumpled onto his back, his eyes blinking in astonishment. His last sight was of a frail old man lifting his walking stick and hobbling back to a sleeping village, his last thought was, ‘How?’

    Posted by Iain
  24. May 10, 2013 @ 8:31 am


    Didn’t know we could post the prompts here:P

    So, that’s who I have to kill, the woman thought as she saw the three shadows standing on the battlefield.

    The long grass brushed the sword at her hip and tickled the dagger strapped to her calf as she walked through the endless sea of green, things scuttled beyond her sight and the grey clouds weighed down the sky. Before she stepped into the circle of scorched earth, she heard the rush of water and wondered whether a stream was near.

    This close she could see the features of the shadows, and they could see her. The warrior with a sun-lined face and grey hair looked her up and down and patted his broadsword. The youth with blade and bow and long red hair looked her up and down and pursed her lips. The man bare of hands and clad in silk instead of steel looked at her with eyebrows raised.

    “Looks like we’re all here”, the woman noticed the warrior’s hands were veined and wrinkled as he rubbed his hands.

    “That we are”, she replied and did not like his smile.

    Sadness tinged the plain-clothed man’s voice, “Shall we begin? Are you ready woman? Are you ready warrior? Are you ready young one?”

    Something glinted in the warrior eyes as he nodded, the youth’s nod was strong but her body stiff and the woman inclined her head.

    “Let it be then, and the losers be damned. State your claim, and then I will state mine”, the plain-clothed man’s tone took on the rhythm of repetition, “What do you do this for?”

    “For youth”, the old man answered.

    “For strength”, the young one answered.
    “For power”, the man of silk answered.

    “For my children”, the woman answered.

    “So we swear”, they answered in unison, “and so we live or die.”

    The word was barely past the woman’s lips before the warrior’s blade whistled towards her and parted the air in front of her face as she stumbled back. Ripping her own piece of steel from its sheet, the woman firmed her feet and faced the warrior. Behind him she saw the flicker of the young one’s hair as she dived into the grass. Beside them both, the silken man watched them as he kneeled upon the floor.

    The warrior came at her with a grin, and his sword as sharp and swift as sin. The blows rattled up her arm as she fended his swipes and lunges and ignored his feints, but whenever she tried to land a blow the warrior deflected and left her open. The sword’s swirled in the air between them, but the woman felt the thrum of power from the silken man’s form. In the corner of her eye, she saw him stand.

    He came at them and they turned as one. Hearing the warrior curse she couldn’t blame him as she saw the gleaming rock that covered him from head to heel and made maces of his hands. The youth’s shot from her hiding place did little but annoy him and he came at them swinging. The woman’s sword went flying from her hand as she tried to block and she fell back. But the warrior swung and danced, but his blade but raised sparks. They turned and struck and struck again, but the man could not catch the warrior and the warrior could not hurt the man. The woman crouched and gripped her ankle as though injured.

    With speed to spite his age he stepped behind the man and swung his sword, and in that final turn exposed his back to the woman’s blade. The blade sank hilt deep in the joint between his neck and back and she whispered in his ear, “Cane.” Feeling his final shudder, she ripped out her blade and heard the hiss as the arrow sank in the warrior’s groin. The man looked from the woman to the warrior and shook his head, before stepping towards her.

    Knowing she could not pierce his armour, the woman turned and felt the arrow slide above her shoulder as she dived into the grass. She hoped the wind’s movement would block her own as the man’s searched. She closed her eyes and listened. Before too long, she heard the creaking of the bow being drawn and crawled towards it.

    She heard the arrow snap against the man and felt the pound of his feet. But, Sandra saw the slip of red hair between the grass and grabbed it. Pulling, the woman heard the woman curse as her head was dragged back, but the blade made short work of her throat.

    The woman looked in her youthful eyes and saw the coldness that not even death would match, “Jebidah”

    Crawling through cold mud and hot blood, the woman moved towards the sound of water. The man’s gait crunched the grass and she heard his hiss of breath, “Who are you woman? I owed these people enough to be the one who killed them.”

    She did not answer and when she parted the grass she felt the wetness of a stream as thin as her hand. It’ll do. It’ll have to. And the woman stood upon her two feet and held her dagger towards the man, “Come here, and find out.”

    The man’s slow nod was the only reply she got before he closed the distance between them in a blink. Those massive hands swung towards her face and she barely ducked in time. His arms punched with no rhythm or rhyme, but what did he need skill when he had that stone armour. She stepped over the stream and felt the scratch of stone on her check and the gush of blood coat her lips.

    Seeing her slow, he stepped forward and his foot squelched in muddy water. The rock armour dissolved from his left leg and he froze in shock. Seeing her chance, the woman grabbed his rough head and used all her weight to pull him forward. The uneven weight of the rocky armour decided it, and they both fell to the floor, but not before he aimed a blow at the woman’s side.

    As they fell, pain exploded deep inside her and she heard the deep snap of bone. She screamed as they fell and felt his weight press upon the wounded side. Head whirling, the sight of one of his hands falling into the river and turning human was barely enough to free her from the pain. She stabbed the blade into that palm and twisted and turned it.
    The man struggled and his form flicker and they screamed together in unison. Feeling the silk of him return she stopped twisted and ripped the blade out. With her other arms she held him close and felt his breath as he asked her, “Who…”

    “Marianne”, she whispered and he, only he, had the blaze of recognition in his blue eyes. When she stabbed the bade into his back, she saw the shame and resignation before his bright eyes went forever out.

    She tried to move him off, but the effort made her head whirl and her insides churn. So be it. I am done and dead. But she won her wish.

    The forms of her children stepped through the grass. Cane with both his arms, Jebidah with his clothes clean of blood, and Marianne standing straight and tall. Their cold hands gripped her arms and helped her up, and together they walked into the endless sea of grass.

    Posted by Tim
  25. May 10, 2013 @ 9:05 am


    [...] Writing Excuses: Blocking – A great podcast on writing about characters and scenery and their places in your narrative. [...]

  26. May 10, 2013 @ 5:36 pm


    How do you deal with writing when the main character doesn’t speak the language of the people around him? Sort of a fish out of water story. Especially stories where you want him to learn the language in the story. I want to avoid quick fix solutions like translators and such.

    Posted by Kurt Petrey
  27. May 11, 2013 @ 3:27 pm


    Kurt,
    I would be loath to write that, personally. You could probably make it work, but dynamic dialogue is important for me. What I would do is give the main character someone else he can talk to so we can have dialogue.

    That said, I wrote a piece (which I’ve sent in for publication or else I’d share) in which only one character (and not the POV character) speaks during the entire short story. Most people who read it don’t even notice that fact until I point it out to them.

    Posted by Terry
  28. May 12, 2013 @ 9:02 am


    Another great podcast–thanks, guys!

    DAN: Just read your John Cleaver books. Kid, you hooked me. I wasn’t crazy about Mom’s big finish, but otherwise the books were a kick to read. (Though I did wonder at myself when I noticed I was eating while reading some pretty gruesome scenes in the mortuary.)

    MARY: Just read Shades of Milk & Honey. What a delightful read. Loved, loved, loved the glamour.

    BRANDON: Loved Mistborn so much, I asked my library here in Sweden to purchase a set so others can read them.

    HOWARD: I do NOT want to play against you in Trivial Pursuit. Seriously. You’ve got so much stuff in your brain, it’s like the Room of Requirement, able to supply whatever you might need.

    Posted by Coppertoe
  29. May 12, 2013 @ 9:54 pm


    When you started talking about furniture, it reminded me of something I noticed in The Kite Runner. It was an excellently written book, but there was this funny thing. At one point, the narrator starts describing in greater detail than usual this heavy coffee table with these brass balls as part of the design–in so much detail, in fact, that you start going, “OK, this table definitely means something…”

    Minutes later, one of the brass balls has been shot into someone’s eye.

    Then a whole lot of interpersonal action happens for most of the rest of the book, and we don’t get a heavy description of an object again… until the moment when the narrator starts to give us an unnecessary amount of detail about how the razor he uses is not a safety one but one of those straight ones that flip out like a switchblade…

    And you’re just going, “Oooh, Chekhov’s guu-uun…”

    And (not to be spoilery) you are right about that.

    So, that’s something to think about too. I dunno, maybe it’s appropriate foreshadowing to a certain extent, but we need to be careful not to describe too obviously objects that will be part of the action and thus telegraph our intentions.

    Posted by Heather
  30. May 19, 2013 @ 8:32 am


    [...] Writing Excuses 8.18: Blocking [ 18:11 ] [...]

  31. May 28, 2013 @ 4:06 pm


    No writing prompt to post, but I wanted to say that, for me, this is one of the GREATEST episodes you guys have ever done. This, I have feeling is one of those “click” moments where we, as writers, first understand something new. I can’t even put it into words, just yet, but three or four times I was thinking, “Oh my God! That’s how its done!” I didn’t even know it had a name, but blocking is one of my weaknesses (that and plot) and this was such a HUGE help! Great podcast.

    Posted by Charles Shingledecker
  32. September 23, 2013 @ 11:46 pm


    Guys, this was an incredibly helpful podcast. Setting up scenes and showing character spatial relationships and movements is something that I definitely need to do better in my story.

    Posted by Rina