By Writing Excuses | January 4, 2009 - 9:32 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Scenes, Writing Prompt

All three of your Writing Excuses hosts include a measure of violence in their written work. So Brandon, Dan, and Howard decide to clear the air a little bit.

Why do we write about violence? What does it bring to a work of fiction, and what challenges does it pose? Is there a morally appropriate way to write about violence? How does it impact the theme of your work?  Is there a difference between writing about violence and writing comedic mayhem?

Writing Prompt: Have some fun in the worst possible way. Write a scene that has an extremely violent sequence that glorifies the violence and then write a scene dealing with the consequences.

By Writing Excuses | March 1, 2009 - 9:16 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Guest, Scenes

 Rob Wells joins the Writing Excuses crew for a second ‘cast, this time dealing with fight scenes. We talk about good blocking versus a bad blow-by-blow, and cover a few of the factors that may dictate the right style of description for that wicked-cool fight you’ve pictured in your head.

This episode is fast-paced and, well… punchy. No, really, it is. Seriously, that seemed like the right word there, pun notwithstanding.

Writing Prompt: Write a fight between two people who have never been in a fight before.

By Writing Excuses | August 16, 2009 - 6:05 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Plot

Meanwhile, several side-characters found themselves looking for a sub-plot in the tavern. Something funny, or perhaps romantic to take the load off of the main story, but still tense enough to keep the pace going. Or maybe something that will let them introduce important elements to the main plot without the reader knowing that’s what’s going on…

And that’s pretty much what subplots are, and what they’re for. But if we skip to the ending that way they can’t do their job! So listen to the whole eighteen-minute podcast, and we’ll rejoin our main characters next week, as the automated orbital lance counts down to zero…

By Writing Excuses | October 25, 2009 - 4:23 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Demonstration, Fantasy, Ideas, Plot, Setting

You are going to love this episode. Seriously.

Brandon throws an idea at Dan and Howard, and then we spend 15 minutes expanding on that idea as if we were going to base a story around it.

You people who keep asking where we get our ideas? You’re asking the wrong question. Ideas are easy to come by — everybody has them. The right question is “how do you turn an idea into a story?”

This podcast skips to the important part of answering the question: demonstration. Enjoy!

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Your writing prompt: Bugs are now magical. Ohcrap.

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By Writing Excuses | November 1, 2009 - 9:15 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Plot

Question: Can you write a good book without a plot twist?

Better question: is it a good book if your readers predicted what was coming?

Best question: is a podcast about predictable prose itself predictable?

No, seriously… the best question is “how can we use predictable, formulaic plotting effectively?” We actually answer that one.

Writing Prompt: “Sense & Sensibility & Terrorists”

By Writing Excuses | March 14, 2010 - 3:14 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Genre, Guest

Jessica Day George joins the Writing Excuses crew again, this time for a discussion of writing for young adults, and maybe for teens, or even middle-grade readers. This isn’t a podcast about rigidly defining the boundary between the YA and middle-grade genres, though. That’s publishing. We’re talking about writing.

If you enjoyed last week’s discussion with the sweeping generalizations and the appropriate application thereof, this ‘cast should be every bit as intriguing. What are teenagers interested in, and how is that different from what interests adults? Do stories need to be simplified for teenagers, or are we underestimating them when we do that? How does the age of your protagonist determine the age-group to whom your publisher will market the book? Why is it genre-appropriate for Dumbledore to repeatedly withhold crucial information from Harry, Hermione, and Ron?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen, because a pit-fighting dragon is way cooler than the dragons of Christopher Paolini.

Writing Prompt: Take a protagonist younger than about 16 and put him or her in charge of a group of adults.

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By Writing Excuses | June 6, 2010 - 5:45 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Lifestyle, Live, Q&A

Recorded live at CONduit with the inestimably valuable help of our friends at Dungeon Crawlers Radio, here’s an episode full of the randomness that is “questions from the audience.” These include:

  • What do people get wrong when they write military science-fiction?
  • How do you develop action sequences?
  • What makes a good foil character?
  • How do you schedule your time as a writer?
  • How do you write good, true-to-character dialog for each of your characters?

Our podcasters for this episode were Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, L.E. Modessit Jr., and Robison Wells.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Haze by L.E. Modessit, Jr.

Writing Prompt: Why does she NOT sound like the guy she’s interested in?

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By Writing Excuses | June 27, 2010 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Artwork, Business, Conflicts, Editing

James Dashner and Julie Wright join Brandon and Dan for an episode about what Lou Anders called “Mating Plumage” back in this 2008 episode of Writing Excuses recorded at Denvention. Lou was just referring to covers, but for this ‘cast Dan has extended the metaphor to include  titles and first lines.

These are the three things that are best positioned to quickly “sell” a book. But to whom? And why?

The crew talks about their experiences with each of these. Yes, we judge books by covers, and no, writers don’t have any control over them. We have a little more control of our titles, and still more over our first lines.  Humorous and tragic anecdotes follow, along with a great example of a first line from Barbara Hambly.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Writing Prompt: Julie Wright, when offered the chance to use the word” monkey,” came up with “I can’t believe you did this to me.” James suggested “Brandon and Julie go on safari and get attacked by monkeys.” Plenty of material there. PLENTY.

Big Hugs One Last Time: With the absence of Producer Jordo and Former Audio Engineer Howard (neither of whom could make it to CONduit) Revan and Malek of Dungeon Crawlers Radio stepped up and made each of these last FIVE EPISODES of Writing Excuses possible. We owe them big-time, and you should go check out their podcast.

I bet it’s about puppies: I Don’t Want to Kill You, by Dan Wells.

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By Writing Excuses | July 18, 2010 - 7:21 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Ideas, Plot, Structure

When Oscar Hammerstein wrote “Let’s start at the very beginning // A very good place to start” he was talking about teaching children to sing, not writing a novel. Sometimes the beginning is the very worst place to start, so in this ‘cast the Writing Excuses crew starts at the end.

Dan leads with a reminder that we should all watch his five-part lecture on story structure, and then hits a couple of the high points in his process. Brandon points out that he and Dan both start in the same way, even though Dan usually discovery-writes his way to the selected ending, and Brandon typically outlines towards it in advance of putting chapters down. Unsurprisingly, Howard starts in the same place.

So what are the problems with working backwards? How do we prevent those things from happening? What are some great things about working backwards? How can we ensure that those happen every time?

That’s the first half of the ‘cast. The second half is a right treat, as you get to listen to Brandon, Dan, and Howard attempt to brainstorm a great ending from which they can work backwards to a beginning. Producer Jordo provides a pair of headlines as prompts, including programmable matter, Harley Davidson motorcycles, and a thrown puppy.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Furies of Calderon: Codex Alera Book 1, by Jim Butcher — a book that Brandon tells us was written when somebody dared Jim Butcher to build epic fantasy around Pokémon.

Writing Prompt: What’s the character arc for our mathematical analyst biker dude? Yes, you’ll have to listen to the ‘cast in order to figure this prompt out.

Sound Effect of the Week: George Jetson’s Harley

Weekly Feature You Won’t See Every Week: Sound Effect of the Week.

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By Writing Excuses | November 21, 2010 - 7:46 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Plot, POV, Structure

How do you write the second book? Zombie John Brown joins us for a discussion of that second novel.

(Note: As of this writing, John Brown remains NOT DEAD. Not UNDEAD, mind you. NOT DEAD. John D. Brown, author, is alive and well, and his nose is healing up quite nicely.)

We’ve got three possible approaches to take. The first is “your second unpublished novel.” The second is “your second published book.” The third is “the second book in a series.” All three of these are worth discussing, so of course we give the second one a wide miss.

We start with that second unpublished novel. This is the book where you move past the momentary validation of finishing the first novel, and sit down at the keyboard again. The lessons learned during the first novel are applied quickly. We talk about some of those lessons, and how they applied to each of us.

We then talk about the second book in a series. We look at what works well in sequels, in second acts, and subsequent installments in an ongoing series. We talk about the dangers of sequel-itis, especially as Hollywood suffers from it, and how we can avoid falling into these traps.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, narrated by Richard Ferrone

Writing Prompt: The growth on your nose… is it an alien, is it occult, or are you going to tell a love story?

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By Writing Excuses | December 27, 2010 - 8:27 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Dialog, Editing

This week’s episode, a day later than usual because of extended eggnogging*, features the submissions of a few brave souls who participated in Brandon’s tagless, unnarrated dialog exercise.

The rules were simple: Write a scene featuring nothing but dialog between two characters. The characters should have distinct voices, and the scene should communicate both setting and conflict. A great example of this is “They’re Made Out of Meat,” by Terry Bisson, which was a Nebula award nominee in 1992 (not a Hugo winner, though Brandon thought it was.) If you haven’t read it before, it’s a right treat and you should click on the story title and go read it right now.

Well… in 20 minutes or so (we ran long.) Listen to the podcast first, and pay attention as Brandon, Dan, and Howard gently dissect and critique the submissions of tagless, unnarrated dialog.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dune, by Frank Herbert, narrated by Scott Brick , Orlagh Cassidy , Euan Morton , and Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: You are walking down a back alley, and you meet Jason from DragonMount. He’s getting all uppity about how good his submission was. What do you do to him?

Word That In This Context Is A Euphemism For “Howard Got Sick”: Eggnogging: [egg-nah-ging]

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By Writing Excuses | October 16, 2011 - 6:11 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Plot, Scenes, Structure

Lou Anders joins Dan, Howard, and Mary for a discussion of endings. We begin by talking about how important it is to “stick your landing” at the end of the book, and then recap the Hollywood Formula to point out how endings work there. We get examples from Mary’s upcoming novel Glamour in Glass, Dan’s upcoming novel Partials, Howard’s work-in-progress short story, and Lou Anders’ award-worthy, dot-matrix printer.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge, narrated by Jay Snyder

Writing Prompt: Using the first fifteen minutes of your least favorite recent movie as a starting point, write a story with a powerful ending.

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By Writing Excuses | December 18, 2011 - 10:49 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Demonstration, Structure

Let’s talk about character foils, and how to use them. We begin with a definition of character foils, expertly read by Mary. Then we talk about some archetypes, like the straight-man and the funny-guy, the hero and the sidekick, and offer some examples.

And then it’s nuts-and-bolts time: we talk about how and why to do this. Howard offers the example of Reverend Theo and Kevyn in the Schlock Mercenary books. Mary explains how she used a foil to strengthen her short story “For Want of a Nail,” (which went on to win a Hugo award.) Brandon tells us how adding a foil character was critical to The Way of Kings. Finally, Dan reveals to us (spoiler alert!) how John Cleaver and Mr. Crowley are foils for one another in I Am Not a Serial Killer.

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Late Eclipses: an October Daye Novel, by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Writing Prompt: Generate a list of five character pairs. Pick the most interesting of the set, and write about them.

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By Writing Excuses | July 15, 2012 - 9:28 am - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Plot, Season 7

The villain problem, as we define it here at the beginning of the ‘cast, is when the heroes are less proactive than the villain, when they spend most of the book doing little more than reacting to the cool things the villains do. It’s one reason that villains are often more interesting, more memorable, than the protagonists against whom they face off. The villain steals the show.

So we talk about how to offset this. There are lots of tools available — focusing on the hero’s passions, giving the protagonist an internal conflict independent of anything coming from the villain’s plotting, and building a solid acceptance of the “call to action” fairly early in the story.

Halfway through we arrive at the conclusion that the villain problem isn’t actually a problem with the villain. It’s a hero problem, and that’s probably the key piece you need to come up with a solution for your book.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Imager, the first book of the Imager Portfolio, by L.E. Modesitt Jr, narrated by William Dufris

Writing Prompt: Take a hero and give him a hobby, and something alive that he loves.

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It’s time for our fourth “Project in Depth” episode, and now Dan Wells is on the spot. The Hollow City is Dan’s latest book, and while it’s not a new John Cleaver book, it’s still a supernatural thriller with a tight psychological focus.

Spoilers galore, of course. If you haven’t read The Hollow City yet, go read it before listening to this episode.

Dan’s New Twitter Handle: Per Howard’s suggestion, @JohnCleaver has been retired in favor of @TheDanWells.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Sucks to be Me, by Kimberly Pauley, narrated by Nancy Wu

Writing Prompt: Go find an interesting mental illness (quick, before Dan takes all the good ones.) Now write from the sufferer's POV, but don't tell us what's actually wrong.

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By Writing Excuses | November 18, 2012 - 7:19 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Season 7, Structure

What are the things that matter to your characters? What things matter to your readers? After we get the obligatory ambiguity out of the way, we settle into talking about the “stakes” and the escalation thereof.

As authors, we want our readers to feel that something is at risk, and that action on the part of the protagonist is important. It might only be important to the protagonist, but whether the world is at stake, or just one person’s reputation, the reader needs to believe that this matters.

In many outlining techniques (three-act structure, seven-point story structure, Hollywood formula) the writer is told to “raise the stakes” at certain points. So, not only must we put things at risk, we must find ways to either increase the amount of risk, or increase the character response to the risk already present.

We talk about the sorts of things that can be treated as “stakes” in the stories we tell, and how we can go about raising those stakes.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Control Point: Shadow Ops, by Myke Cole, narrated by Corey Jackson

Writing Prompt: Raise the stakes without resorting to risks to reputation, livelihood, or mental health. Or explosions. Don't use those, either.

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By Writing Excuses | November 25, 2012 - 7:44 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Ideas, Pacing, Plot, Season 7

A while back one of the former storyboard artists at Pixar, Emma Coats, (@lawnrocket on Twitter) started tweeting the “22 Pixar Storytelling Rules” And now the cast of Writing Excuses reviews them, and offers some applications.

These rules cover character development, plot structure, process, and much more. No, we weren’t able to give them all deep coverage, but this serves as a great refresher on lots of things we’ve covered in the past.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by Scott Brick

Writing Prompt: "The Multi-Tentacled Space Goat cannot come and save us again."

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By Writing Excuses | December 2, 2012 - 7:53 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Scenes, Season 7, Submitting

We haven’t discussed beginnings this in a while, and when we did, we summed it up with “in late, out early.” Now we’re going to talk about what needs to be present when you’re “in.” We talk about tone, and how the tone you set in your beginning is a promise made to your reader, using examples from George R.R. Martin and David Brin. We also talk about how useful (and how dangerously trite) a labeled prologue can be, and how important it is to establish a setting, especially in genre fiction.

This episode appears out of order with something else we recorded which we refer to, specifically a piece Mary is working on. Tantalizing, yes? Here is the episode you probably wanted to hear first.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, narrated by Julie Dretzen

Writing Prompt: Start a new story. Give us character, place, and sense of tone. Do it one sentence, and do it within 13 lines (which is what typically appears on the first page of a manuscript.)

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By Writing Excuses | January 13, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Education, Fantasy, Ideas, Outlining, Plot, Prose, Season 8, Setting, Structure

Beowulf didn’t kill Grendel on a day trip, Luke didn’t overthrow Emperor Palpatine in just one season, and here at Writing Excuses, we didn’t get around to properly discussing the Hero’s Journey until we were well into the second decade of this century.

Sorry about that.

The Campbellian Monomyth, as defined in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, is a system of comparative mythology that, for better or for worse, gets used a lot by writers. We talk about some of our favorite examples, and immediately begin arguing over terms. Hopefully this is delightful to you, and educational for everyone. Especially since the monomyth is not a checklist, and it should not be taken that way.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: At the time we recorded this, Hero With a Thousand Faces was available on Audible. It's not anymore. So... go find something else educational?

Writing Prompt: Take Goldilocks and the Three Bears, apply the Campbellian Monomyth, and give us a short story.

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E.J. “Eric” Patten joins us for a discussion of pre-writing. His first book, Return to Exile, came out in 2011, and The Legend Thief released in March of 2013.

What is pre-writing? Eric walks us through his process for developing a story, beginning with the high-concept world-building inspired by the phrase “Cthulhu for kids.” He talks about the importance of getting the characters right, and how this process precedes plot development. Each of us handles this a little differently, and we talk about how that goes.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: E.J. Patten's books aren't available on Audible, but if you're looking for Cthulhu that isn't for kids, H.P. Lovecraft's classics "Call of Cthulhu" and "Reanimator" can be found in H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 2, narrated by Garrick Hogan.

Writing Prompt: Kids get magical powers from their Halloween costumes...

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By Writing Excuses | July 28, 2013 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Season 8

What’s a reluctant character? Well, it’s somebody who needs to be dragged along into the adventure, somebody who isn’t the sort of self-motivated, go-getter that we so often populate our books with. These characters feel a lot like real people — our world is full of folks like this. The trick lies in making these characters interesting to read.

We offer some examples from things we’ve read, some general structural tricks, and some of the tools we’ve used in our own work, including examples from Glamour in Glass, The Way of Kings, and The Hollow City.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Celebromancy, by Michael R. Underwood, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal, who gets to make a light-saber noise as part of the narration...

Writing Prompt: Create a character who is either weak or reluctant, determine why they are weak or reluctant, and then write the decision point.

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By Writing Excuses | June 9, 2014 - 10:45 am - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, eBooks, Publishing, Scenes, Season 9

Side quests come in a couple of forms — they may be something inside the book that takes the characters away from the main plotline, or they may be adventures that take place outside of the book itself.

We talk about the first type, and how to make sure they’re in the book for the right reasons, citing examples from The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, Redshirts, The Way of Kings, and The Hollow City among other stories.

In covering the second type, we talk about how ebooks have made ancillary, side-quest releases more common, and we cite the book trailers for the Partials series, the Glamourist Histories Christmas Stories, Steelheart, and the Schlock Mercenary Bonus Stories.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy and Todd Harris, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Writing Prompt: Create a story in which you have an incredibly powerful character, and a sidekick, then flip the relationship so the sidekick is in charge.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.

Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership.

Audible Free Trial Details

Get an audiobook of your choice, free, with a 30-day trial. After the trial, your paid membership will begin at $14.95 per month. With your membership, you will receive one credit every month, good for any audiobook on Audible.

Cancel anytime, effective the next monthly billing cycle. Cancel before your trial ends and you will not be charged. Check out the full terms and policies that apply to Audible membership.