By Writing Excuses | July 5, 2010 - 9:45 am - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Scenes

“As you know, we’ll be discussing stilted dialog” said Howard. “We should do something different for the introduction.”

“Let’s speak our dialog tags” said Brandon cleverly.

“We mustn’t forget to include adverbs” said Dan pensively.

That’s not exactly how it went down, but that’s a nicely stilted object lesson, right? And let me state for posterity that writing it was painful.

What is “stilted dialog?” Who is wearing stilts, and why? More importantly, how can we avoid writing dialog that staggers about on leg extensions?

We offer a few tricks, including heavily re-writing (after first racing to get as much dialog on the page as possible), using turns of phrase that are in-character for the person saying it, and turning exposition into arguments.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, which is currently being read by the Internet reading group One book, One Twitter.

Writing Prompt: This is a two-parterStart by writing the very worst infodumping maid & butler dialog you can (using an actual maid and an actual butler.) Now rewrite it with the maid & butler arguing viciously. Include all the same information, but make the dialog believable and entertaining.

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By Writing Excuses | July 11, 2010 - 8:28 pm - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Editing, Plot, Scenes, Structure

What do you do when, halfway through the book you’re writing, you realize it needs to be completely rebuilt? More importantly, how do you figure this out in the first place? This podcast came about as a result of a question from a listener, but the question was specific to “what if you find out it’s too derivative?” As it turns out, that’s just one of the many problems you can discover midway through a novel.

We spend the first half of the cast discussing how each of us identify the showstopping problems that require us to overhaul our works.

We then talk about the process of fixing things that might, at first glance, appear to be completely unfixable. Sometimes we shift pieces of paper around, sometimes we push blocks of text around in our word processors, and sometimes we have to do something really significant, like adding an entirely new character or point-of-view.

One of the best features of this particular ‘cast is the bit in the second half where Howard and Dan grill Brandon about his process for Towers of Midnight. Wheel of Time fans won’t find any spoilers, but they’ll certainly gain some insight.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett, which Howard loves because of the “stand-up-and-cheer” moments of heroism throughout the book.

Writing Prompt: Take something you’ve already written, grab a throwaway concept in that story, and rewrite that scene or chapter so the throwaway bit is now the major focus.

Moment of Extreme Hubris: “I give lessons.” Listen for it.

That Episode on Stealing for Fun and Profit: Right here.

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By Writing Excuses | August 8, 2010 - 7:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Editing

We return to White Sand (original version), Brandon’s first book, written while he was a teenager. Again, you’ll need to suspend your disbelief as we assume that the story edits and other major content passes are complete, and what’s on the page now only needs refinement.

In this episode we’re drilling down on the dialog, which includes not only what the characters are saying, but also the said-bookisms (most of which are going to need to go.) We prune, we trim, and do all kinds of little things to make the conversations flow better, serve the plot better, and better engage the reader.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde. Note that there are three dramatizations available. Our first link is to the one with James Marsters.

Writing Prompt: From Producer Jordo: The Importance of Being Earnest Goes To Jail. Or Camp. Whatever. Think “Oscar Wilde/Earnest mashup.”

White Sand Excuses: The decades-long spin-off podcast in which over the course of 10 years we line edit this book down to around 200,000 words.

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By Writing Excuses | October 17, 2010 - 4:36 pm - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Genre

Melodrama. What is it? What do people mean when they say something is too melodramatic?

Usually they do NOT mean “it’s too much like a classical melodrama,” but it helps if we start with that definition: a melodrama is a story in which each character only expresses one emotion, and/or only has one trait. When we refer to melodrama, we’re usually complaining about over-acting.

So… how do we avoid it? How do we create characters in conflict without overdoing the conflict or the characterization. In many ways it comes back to something we say over and over (and over and over) again: make your characters into real people.

But we’re not going to leave it at that. We’re not just going to repeat what we’ve been telling you for three years now. No, we’ve got good tools you can use for writing powerful, emotional moments without your readers whining about melodrama.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Tomb: Repairman Jack #1, by F. Paul Wilson

Writing Prompt: Write a story in which you take a cliched, angsty hero in a completely new direction, so that it doesn’t feel cliched.

Dramatic Reading: Stick around after the ‘cast for Howard’s reading of Mike O’s response to our “magical ink” writing prompt.

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By Writing Excuses | November 7, 2010 - 7:00 pm - Posted in Dialog, Guest, Ideas

The now cancer-free John Brown joins us again, this time for a discussion of the creative process. John has presented a seminar on this subject in the past, the focus of which is to teach people to unlock their creativity. At the core of this is the problem-solving we all engage in at some point. You have a problem, so you sit down and try to solve it. BAM. Creativity.

With John’s help we set out to de-mystify creativity, showing how everybody has to be creative on a regular basis, and how this skill set can be broadened through certain types of behavior, and immersion in particular domains. We explore strategies for developing what feels like a good idea, tactics for getting un-stuck when we’re bogged down, and finally figuring out when we’re done.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold, read by Marguerite Gavin

Writing Prompt: A person gets surgery so in order to imitate He Who Never Sleeps…

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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 | January 16, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Criticism, Dialog, Editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Writing Excuses | May 22, 2011 - 6:21 pm - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Genre, Guest

John Scalzi joins Brandon and Howard at Penguicon for a discussion of writing dialog. John’s advice begins thusly: “start reading outside Science Fiction and Fantasy.” It’s good advice regardless, but John’s justification for it is fascinating.

Dialog in prose is not very much like real-life dialog. Your goal as a writer is to convince the reader that it is. And that’s what we’re going to try to teach you how to do. Or at least how to learn how to do.

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi’s reboot of H.Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy, narrated by Wil Wheaton

Writing Prompt: Write a dialog between someone ordering at a drive-through and someone taking the order, but the person taking the order is being held up at gunpoint.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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By Writing Excuses | February 26, 2012 - 6:48 pm - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Editing, Grammar and Spelling, Plot, Q&A, Scenes, Season 7

Microcasting! This is a fancy word for “Q&A” — we pick some questions from Twitter, and do what amounts to nine mini-episodes of Writing Excuses with a side of bacon. This time around the questions were:

  • What do you do if you dont like your characters?
  • How do you keep your plot on track?
  • Is it better to use real locations in an Urban Fantasy?
  • What do you do about plot holes?
  • How do you know if you should abandon a story and move on to something else?
  • How do you ensure the answers to mysteries are satisfying?
  • What are some language-level mistakes that mark writing as amateurish?
  • What should a scene consist of?
  • What kind of bacon is best?
  • Why is Schlock, who looks like a pile of poo, lovable instead of disgusting?

Dan Has A New Book Out This Week: Partials releases this Tuesday, Februrary 28th.

Howard Has An Actual Birthday This Week: Wednesday, February 29th. There will be a sale on at schlockmercenary.com, and it will involve the numbers 11, 29, and 44.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Prompt: Write what one of your characters would write if that character had a blog.

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By Writing Excuses | February 3, 2013 - 9:35 pm - Posted in Characters, Dialog, magic, POV, Sci-fi, Season 8, Setting

Oh yeah, it’s time to break some rules! We’ve said that you’ve got to learn the rules before you break them, but here, eight seasons in, you probably already know them. So let’s make with the breaking!

We talk about some of the rules we’ve broken, and some of our favorite broken rules in other people’s work. We also talk about why any of us got away with it.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Holes, by Louis Sachar, narrated by Kerry Byer

Writing Prompt: Here is a rule for rule-breaking: The best format for experimenting with rule-breaking is the short. So! Pick your three favorite rules and break all three in a short story.

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By Writing Excuses | May 26, 2013 - 8:56 am - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Pacing, Scenes, Season 8

We here at Writing Excuses enjoyed Marvel’s The Avengers. This isn’t a movie review, though. This is a discussion of what the movie did right from a writer’s standpoint. The things we focus on?

  • Dialog and character voice
  • Balanced handling of an ensemble of main characters
  • Scenes that serve more than one function
  • Pacing

Obviously there will be some spoilers here. The film is available for rental now, so you might consider watching it again with this podcast and these points in mind. And generally speaking, it’s a good exercise for writers to look at movies (or books, or comics, or whatever) that they enjoy, and then attempt to identify the reasons those things were enjoyable.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, narrated by David Colacci

Writing Prompt: Take an ensemble cast, and have them fighting each other as a prelude to fighting what needs to be fought. Alternatively? "Hulk smash."

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By Writing Excuses | August 4, 2013 - 3:02 pm - Posted in Dialog, Prose, Scenes, Season 8

The combination of dialogue, blocking, and description, can be considered from a couple of directions. The first is the idea that we’re really talking about making every element do double or triple duty. Dialogue, blocking, and description work together for exposition, answering questions the reader is asking.

The second is the “pyramid of abstraction.” The bottom of the pyramid, the scene setting, is the concrete foundation. The layers atop it can be more and more abstract, like tagless dialog without concrete descriptions, if that original foundation is firm enough.

In this ‘cast we take both approaches, and offer some tips, tricks, and examples so that you can learn to do this well.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Writing Prompt: (Which is Actually Homework) Write description for half an hour. A full half hour. Set a timer! Try to use all five senses. Now write a single paragraph in which we establish a single character in that setting. Finally, write three sentences that convey the character, the description, and the character's emotional state. Want more exercises like this one? Here you go! (courtesy of Mary.)

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By Writing Excuses | April 27, 2014 - 8:50 pm - Posted in Career, Dialog, Editing, Fantasy, magic, Season 9, World Building

Microcasting! A Q&A by any other name. Here are the questions we fielded:

  • Can I have a rule-based magic system and a mystical system in the same universe?
  • What are your pre-writing methods? (Can of worms — it’s going to get its own episode)
  • What’s the first thing you do once the first draft is done?
  • When approaching real-world issues, how do you avoid being preachy?
  • What’s the best advice you can offer to someone who’s just starting to write?
  • Does it help you to experiment with weird narrative styles?
  • What are your least favorite tropes?
  • Should you fully edit your first few “practice” books?
  • How do you know if you’re writing too quickly?
  • How do you tell the difference between a weakness in your craft, and a story that requires stylistic rule-breaking?

 

In other news, Writing Excuses Season 8 has been nominated for the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Related Work. We’re thrilled to appear on the ballot, and are excited to be in such good company there.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Martian, by Andy Weir, narrated by R.C. Bray

Writing Prompt: Paranormal fantasy: We've had enough of vampire and werewolf romances. Give us a protagonist who falls in love with a shoggoth.

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