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 | June 20, 2010 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Collaboration, Demonstration, Guest, Ideas, Plot

James Dashner and Julie Wright join Brandon and Dan at CONduit in Salt Lake City, and may end up wishing they hadn’t. Brandon throws sets of story concepts at the crew, and asks them to quickly frame serious stories with a solid settings and cool characters.

The  first set of story elements:

  • Church accountant
  • contact lenses that ruin your vision
  • brain implants

The second set of story elements:

  • Hell for English Majors
  • Key that will lock any door

The third set of story elements:

  • Janitors are trying to take over the world
  • They’re going to be stopped by a superhero with no arms
  • It can’t be silly

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Writing Prompt: This whole episode was made of writing prompts. Pick one!

Fun Random Fact: Howard worked as a church accountant for a while and he owns contact lenses that do, in fact, impair his vision.

Freaky Bonus Thanks: We couldn’t have recorded this episode without help from our friends at Dungeon Crawlers Radio.

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Okay, let’s have some fun. Not that we weren’t having fun for the previous 150+ episodes, mind you. But this is extra-fun.

Brandon, Dan, and Howard take the urban fantasy writing prompt about big-box stores and decide to brainstorm a story out of it. When we begin this ‘cast all we have is the prompt.

Then we brainstorm, plowing through setting, character, conflict, and story.

By the end of the ‘cast we’re ready to make a pitch to an editor and sell the book.

Okay, maybe not. But the book is totally ready for us to sit down and write. Or, better yet, for YOU to sit down and write.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn, narrated by Marguerite Gavin

Writing Prompt: Take what we’ve done in this ‘cast and try to come up with a plot and an ending. Alternatively, take the list of competition films from the most recent Sundance Film Festival and pick six that are somehow part of a Fey plot.

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By Writing Excuses | July 17, 2011 - 5:07 pm - Posted in Collaboration, Demonstration, Genre, Ideas, Setting

Here’s a brainstorming episode in which Brandon throws random concepts from a textbook of his on gods and goddesses, and we attempt to brainstorm a cyberpunk story from these elements.

The elements thrown at us include clay, Sanskrit, fire god, and Buddhism.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch professionals wrestle with story genesis, this is the episode for you.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: A Scanner Darkly, by Phillip K. Dick, narrated by Paul Giamatti.

Writing Prompt: Come up with a cyberpunk world using the seed “penguins.”

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By Writing Excuses | August 21, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Criticism, Demonstration, Editing, Sci-fi

It is Howard’s turn in the critique box! Brandon, Dan, and Mary dissect a 21-year-old manuscript from 22-year-old Howard, this time with an eye to making descriptions do more than one thing.

Since the manuscript runs for six pages before colliding with any inconvenient dialog, it’s a perfect fit. It might also be perfect because of how much work it needs.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, narrated by David Colacci

Writing Prompt: Start with Howard’s concept and write your own story. The complete chapter whose pages we dissected can be found here in RTF format.

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By Writing Excuses | October 23, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Ideas

We’ve done brainstorming casts before. This time we’ve prepared something quite a bit different. It’s different, in fact, because we prepared it — in advance, even.

Producer Jordo provided your hosts Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard with four wacky news headlines. From these, we each hammered together rudimentary bits of story, and we did so independently. You get four different takes on this four-headline mashup.

The four headlines:

  • Wary of Iguanas, Bored Germans Finally Venture Out
  • Heroic Mailman Saves Three Lives While On the Job
  • Dolphin Charged With Battery Against Girlfriend
  • Austrian Power Company Tells Customer She is Dead

Mary goes first and sets the bar rather high with an entire story outline.

Brandon goes next, and gives us a magic system.

Then it’s Howard’s turn. What looks like story shrapnel turns out to be the prologue.

Finally, Dan gives us a nice, post-apocalyptic piece, or at least the robotic skeleton of one.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, narrated by Tom Weiner.

Writing Prompt: No prompt this week. Not unless you want to try your hand at these headlines.

Those Bullet Points from Brandon: Nope, not in Howard’s email. We’ll get them eventually. Or maybe not.

 

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By Writing Excuses | December 4, 2011 - 4:54 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Fantasy, Setting, World Building, Writing Prompt

It’s the Writing Excuses Fantasy Setting Yard Sale!

In this experimental (at least for us) ‘cast, Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard build a couple of fantasy settings for you, and they’re free. Seriously. TAKE THEM.

We start our world-building with an unusual way for someone to obtain magical powers. We ended up with space-dust. We then head into what these powers do, and again we look for something unusual. We picked mutation. Then we start applying limitations: astrological, alchemical, and geological.

Our second pass (we’re giving away more than one of these!) began with cultural elements. We toy with how political power is granted, and end up with some neat linguistic bits, puerile humor, dance steps, ambidexterity, and a callback to the earlier puerility.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Writing Prompt: This whole episode is one big writing prompt, and you need one because NaNoWriMo is over, but that’s no excuse to not write. You’re out of excuses, as we’ve told you on more than one occasion. Write!

Puerility: “Fart joke.”

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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 | April 8, 2012 - 7:20 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Editing, Outlining, Season 7

Mary Robinette Kowal graciously loaned us an outline she was working on in 2003. For this podcast, Mary reads from her outline, Brandon interrupts her, and we dissect. This is a brutal process. Know, fair listener, that we love Mary a lot.

And LOVE HURTS.

In completely unrelated news, Writing Excuses Season Six has been nominated for a Hugo Award for “Best Related Work.” You may feel free to extend congratulations and good wishes in the comments below.

Liner Notes: Want to follow along in Mary’s outline? Here it is!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal, releases this week! We've put links to it over here on our brand new Book of the Week page!

Writing Prompt: Take an existing folk tale and re-tell it using the Dora the Explorer formula for quests.

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By Writing Excuses | April 15, 2012 - 6:29 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Editing, Outlining, Season 7

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more… only without a big speech before the charge.

We’re still tearing into Mary’s first novel outline in this second part of a VERY SPECIAL two-part session of Writing Excuses. Mary reads from her outline, then Brandon, Dan, and Howard look for high-level problems like inactive protagonists, missing character arcs, or other structural issues.

As promised, this episode runs long. Hopefully you’re not in that much of a hurry, because clearly we weren’t smart enough to plow through all this material inside of 20 minutes.

Liner Notes: That link up there is the same as this one right here.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: Give us a monkey, a bronze pot, a baby, and pizza in completely different situations than what we heard in Mary's outline.

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We’re doing something new, and Howard gets to go first.

The plan is to take something one of us has completed, and which you’ve had ample time to read, and grill the creator about the project. Obviously there will be spoilers. Also, we’re going to run a bit long on these.

First up in our “Project In Depth” series: Howard’s most recent online volume of Schlock Mercenary, Force Multiplication. You can read it for free at the link above. It’s been nominated in the Best Graphic Story category for this year’s Hugo Awards, this entire episode features Howard on the spot answering questions about the project from Brandon, Dan, and Mary.

The biggest issue discussed is the female perspective. In Force Multiplication Howard challenged himself by casting all of the leads for the story as women, and it changed the storytelling process for him significantly.

He also talks about the setting — Haven Hive — and how he needed the setting to functionally isolate a small ensemble cast. He talks about naming a little, and finally talks about how he turned a sterile-sounding high-concept plot into an interesting story.

Next up on our Project In Depth series: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. You have been warned. We’ll also be doing Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamour in Glass and Dan Wells’ Hollow City. We’re NOT doing this back-to-back. You’ve got a little time.

Thing That Would Make Howard Sound Smarter: Remove every last “you know” from his dialog. (Note that this would not actually increase Howard’s IQ.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

Writing Prompt: Do this with your own work—have your friends interview you in depth about something you've finished, or something you're currently working on.

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By Writing Excuses | September 2, 2012 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Ideas, Plot, Season 7

Dan needs to write a military thriller. It’s just a short story, but still, it’s a bit outside his area of expertise, and he needs help. So in this episode Brandon, Mary, and Howard will endeavor to help him.

The working title? “I.E.Demon”

You can’t read this story yet, but we’ll let you know when you can.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton

Writing Prompt: Google military three-letter-acronyms (IED and RPG are off-limits.) Swap out one of the words for a supernatural descriptor beginning with the same letter. That's your story seed.

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By Howard Tayler | October 7, 2012 - 4:38 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Outlining, Pacing, Plot, Season 7

If you’ve ever had difficulty outlining something, this episode might be a perfect fit for you. We discuss the Seven-Point Story Structure, an outlining system Dan uses in which the story moves forward along seven sequential points.

Dan originally acquired this from a role-playing book, but it also sees regular use in screenwriting. Dan walks us through the system, and we hold his feet to the fire on behalf of Lou Anders, who once privately confessed to Howard that he just couldn’t get this thing to work.

Here, without any flavor text, are the seven points:

  • Hook
  • Plot Turn I
  • Pinch I
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch II
  • Plot Turn II
  • Resolution
While these are (obviously) not the only seven things that happen in your book, these are the key things that are working together to move you from hook to resolution.
After an explanation of the system, we brainstorm this on Dan’s “I.E.Demon” story in order to demonstrate the tool for you. Also, for Lou.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Enchanted, by Alethea Kontis, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Linkage: Dan Wells Seven-Point Story Structure on YouTube

Writing Prompt: Try out the seven-point story structure for yourself. Outline something!

By Writing Excuses | December 12, 2012 - 10:06 am - Posted in Demonstration, Plot, Season 7, Setting, World Building

We try. We really do. But sometimes, in our efforts to make sure we’ve got a large enough queue of episodes to keep you edutained and entercated, we get things out of order. Badly.

Our last two episodes (49 and 50) made reference to this one, which was recorded before they were, and many of you were confused. We were even confused! But enough about the behind-the-scenes recording process. On with the episode!

Mary pitches us three story sketches, and we pick one to brainstorm. This, by the way, is also how Mary works with her agent. After the pitches, we select the one that doesn’t have much of a story yet.

And then it’s a brainstorming session. If you’ve ever wondered where we (or anybody else) gets their ideas, and more importantly, how they refine them, this is a must-listen.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Writing Prompt: In a setting in which magnetic fields are dramatically different between locations, give us a story about traveling between those locations.

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By Writing Excuses | March 3, 2013 - 5:48 pm - Posted in Death, Demonstration, Ideas, Season 8

In this episode Howard pitches three story ideas to the group, and they pick one to brainstorm. The selection process is itself educational (which is good, because it runs for a third of the ‘cast…)

The story selected is near-future science-fiction with extra-dimensional, magical elements. As the brainstorming continues, we grab some fun secret-history elements, and successfully deepen the conflict. We also learn that there are two stories here, and Howard has to choose which one of them to write.

And For Your Disappointment: As of this time the story laid out in this ‘cast remains unwritten, so you can’t read it.

But to Make Up For It: Howard got distracted and wrote a horror piece instead! Here is a sample! (Note: this wasn’t one of the pitches, but it DOES demonstrate that Howard really, really wanted to get out of his comfort zone.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Feedback, by Robison Wells, narrated by Michael Goldstrom

Writing Prompt: Pick a major event in history, and then write a secret history in which Death returns to take over.

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By Writing Excuses | March 10, 2013 - 6:07 pm - Posted in Collaboration, Demonstration, Season 8

In this episode Brandon, Mary, and Dan help Howard brainstorm a story for a comic!

Howard begins with an uplift-related setting, and a couple of characters, and then the group takes off on a delightful demonstration of brainstorming within very specific constraints. The constraints in this case: existing setting and canon, existing characters, and (Howard’s favorite constraint) a limited page-count.

Disappointment of Epic Levels: Howard struggled so much with this story, even after the brainstorming session, that he decided to abandon the Bonus Story option for this book, and instead write a dozen new footnotes for the existing strips. This is no reflection upon the story itself. Brandon, Dan, and Mary did a great job. This story may see life someplace else, but not between the covers of “The Body Politic.”

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Fragments, by Dan Wells, narrated by Julia Whelan

Writing Prompt: An uplifted creature wants to get his/her entire species downlifted.

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By Writing Excuses | April 7, 2013 - 5:28 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Ideas, Sci-fi, Season 8

As if he needs the help, Brandon challenges Mary, Howard, and Dan to help him brainstorm an A.I. short story. Brandon hands them some setup, and off they go. The ground may have been well-tread in the past, but this particular brainstorming session is full of great ideas that incorporate religion, cargo cults, puzzles, and aliens…

The big challenge here is finding a tale that’s interesting enough and original enough to be worth the telling…

Mary’s Hugo-nominated Novella: “Kiss Me Twice” which appeared in Asimov’s.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dragonsinger: Harper Hall Trilogy Volume 2, by Anne McCaffrey, narrated by Sally Darling

Writing Prompt: Come up with a better resolution for this story than we did.

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By Writing Excuses | April 21, 2013 - 11:03 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Season 8

We’re going to try brainstorming with Brandon again, because that last story didn’t grab him. There’s a lesson there, but let’s move on…

Our story seed is “psychic birds.” Brandon asks us to start with plotting, but we have to do a little world-building first, locking down some of the bird abilities, and their scope. Then we wrestle with conflict, and the need for a good ending.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin, narrated by Rob Inglis

Writing Prompt: Come up with an animal that both swims and flies. But not a duck.

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The number one request we got when we asked you what you’d like us to talk about? Short story writing. Mary is our resident expert, and if she weren’t already a member of the cast, she’d our go-to expert for an interview. Convenient!

We begin by addressing the popular notion that writing short stories is a good way to practice for writing novels, and selling short stories is a way to break in and sell novels. We then return to the M.I.C.E. quotient (first addressed by us in 6.10) and discuss how the quotient (or model, or formula) helps you understand what to cut from the telling of a story to make it a short story.

Mary then walks us through her process for turning an idea into a story concept, and then distilling that concept into a short story. She also invites us to explore her 950-word short, “Evil Robot Monkey,” free of charge!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Language of Moths, by Christopher Barzak, narrated by Paul Michael Garcia

Writing Prompt: Being "bi-textual" is a controversial lifestyle choice...

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By Writing Excuses | June 9, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Career, Demonstration, Editing, Guest, Ideas, Q&A, Sci-fi, Season 8, Uncategorized

Microcasting! It’s what we’ve taken to calling a Q&A. Eric Patten joins us for this one. Here are the questions:

  • What’s your first step in the rewriting process?
  • How do you write Artificial Intelligences as characters?
  • Tactful promotion: how do you get nominated for a Hugo or Nebula?
  • How do you decide whether or not to take an offer from a publisher?
  • Do you use a writing notebook? How, and for what?
  • What methods do you use to test the “coolness” and/or viability of a story idea?
  • What genre or style do you read that is outside of the one(s) in which you write?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Red Storm Rising, by Tom Clancy, narrated by Michael Prichard

Writing Prompt: Two words: "Flying Caldecott."

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Mary’s story “Kiss Me Twice,” is a murder mystery featuring an artificial intelligence using Mae West as an avatar. It appeared on the ballot for the 2012 Hugo Awards in the Best Novella category (our early discussion to the contrary, we totally did NOT air this episode in time for 2012 Hugo voting. Yes, we recorded this episode a full year prior to airing it.)

Mary walks us through the process of creating the story, and then cutting it down from novel-length to the novella-length at which it currently appears, as well as a bunch of the work that went into creating a compelling, character-driven mystery with an A.I. as a critical character. We also get a fun “what-if” argument as the cast talks about what we liked best about the story, and how we’d change it if it got bigger.

Public Service Announcement: Voting is now open for the 2013 Hugos. The ballot can be seen here. If you purchase, or have already purchased, a membership to LoneStarCon 3, you are eligible to vote on the 2013 Hugos, and will have access to the entire Hugo Voting Packet — a collection of all nominated works. Voting closes on July 31st. (Obligatory disclaimer: Brandon and Howard are on the ballot in the Novella and Graphic Story categories, respectively, and Writing Excuses Season 7 is on the ballot in the Best Related Work category.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Empire State, by Adam Christopher, narrated by Phil Gigante

Writing Prompt: Pick your favorite actor or actress, gather your favorite quotes from them in their films, and string them together in a single character's voice in a new context.

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By Writing Excuses | February 9, 2014 - 7:33 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Guest, Season 9

Mette Ivie Harrison joins us again for a fun discussion of how we experience time. This episode runs a little differently. Howard shares an experience he had driving on black ice, Mette shares an experience about a bike accident during an Ironman, and Mary shares a story about falling down a flight of stairs.

Each of these stories point up the way that our perception of time can change. There are physiological reasons for this, and knowing just a little bit about that physiology can help us write this actual, real phenomenon in a way that does not seem cliché. We talk about how we can write time compression or dilation phenomenon in ways that seem fresh.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Déjà Dead, by Kathy Reichs, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.

Writing Prompt: Take something you've already written where you relied on cliché (bonus points if it's time-related) and rewrite it using different tools.

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This is the first of our DANGER SPOILERS AHEAD story critique episodes. The story, “Sixth of the Dusk,” is available as part of SHADOWS BENEATH, the Writing Excuses anthology, which includes the finished story (obviously) and the version we critiqued in this episode. SHADOWS BENEATH also includes the stories we’ll be critiquing for the rest of July’s episodes, and some other pretty cool stuff that you can read about here. Oh, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the ebook at no additional charge.

Sure, you can totally listen to this episode without having done the reading. We cannot stop you! Howard looked around for a full hour, but there’s no “stop playback for people who have not done the homework” button anywhere here.

This is also the first half of a two-part episode. We spent about 40 minutes hammering on Brandon’s story, and that’s just too much Writing Excuses for one week. Oh, and we recorded this episode live at last year’s Out of Excuses Seminar and Retreat. You’ll hear our audience of awesome attendees responding to us.

We run this session like Brandon runs his critique group — we begin by talking about what we liked, so that the writer knows what not to accidentally remove during revisions. Then we drill down on the things we have problems with, and you know what? There were a bunch of those things! Like most writers, Brandon’s first drafts are imperfect things that have problems in them.

We also run this session in a way that we don’t actually suggest you run your critique groups, at least not until you’ve put a bunch of critique sessions under your belt.

That Thing Howard Said to Brandon Between Sessions has been lost to time. Or repressed memory. Sorry.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by Scott Brick. (Note: This version of the audiobook has the Will Smith movie cover, but it's also the best-ranked version.)

Writing Prompt: A setting in which you can vote through time for things.

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HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! Also, merchandising!

This is the second of our story critique episodes. The story, “Sixth of the Dusk,” is available as part of SHADOWS BENEATH, the Writing Excuses anthology, which includes the finished story (obviously) and the version we critiqued in this episode. SHADOWS BENEATH also includes the stories we’ll be critiquing for the rest of July’s episodes, and some other pretty cool stuff that you can read about here. If you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the ebook at no additional charge.

Can you get a lot out of this episode without having done the reading? Yes! But we don’t know what those things will be. Can you get a lot out of this episode without having listened to Part 1? Probably, but here’s a link to it in case you have doubts.

Having covered the stuff we loved in Part 1, this episode is the big downer where we just focus on the problems we found. But hey, that’s how stories get to be better! We start with the big ones, and then work our way back up to the little things.

We recorded this episode live at last year’s Out of Excuses Seminar and Retreat. Our audience of awesome attendees can be heard cheering when we finally slay the [SPOILERS REDACTED] with our collected powers of [REDACTED AGAIN.]

 

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, by Diana Rowland, narrated by Allison McLemore

Writing Prompt: Have a man who plays the musical saw find more than one additional use for the saw during the story.

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SPOILER ALERT!

This is the third of our SHADOWS BENEATH story critique episodes. This episode’s story, “A Fire in the Heavens,” is available as part of the aforementioned Writing Excuses anthology, pictured there on the right, which includes the the draft we critiqued in this episode along with the final version.

We still have two more SHADOWS BENEATH critique episodes, so it’s not too late to grab a copy for yourself. Oh, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the ebook at no additional charge.

Mary runs this session like she runs her own critique groups using what’s often called the Milford method in which we each take two minutes to run through our thoughts on the story. We do that for the first half of the episode. During the second half Mary asks us questions, sometimes for clarification about what we said, and sometimes for suggestions.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Rip-Off! Written by: John Scalzi, Jack Campbell, Mike Resnick, Allen Steele, Lavie Tidhar, Nancy Kress, Gardner Dozois (editor) Narrated by: Wil Wheaton, Scott Brick, Christian Rummel, Jonathan Davis, Stefan Rudnicki, L. J. Ganser, Khristine Hvam

Writing Prompt: A brainstorming session spawns life somehow.

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