By Writing Excuses | July 12, 2009 - 6:29 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Genre, Horror, Sci-fi

You’ve seen it done… “Zombie Apocalypse in Space.” “Perry Mason in the Armed Forces.”  It’s genre blending, where the author takes themes prevalent in two different genres and combines them to create something new.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. We call down a few examples of both, and offer you listeners the sage advice you need to blend genres successfully. Summary: like the vegan barbecue chef, one of the secrets to your success lies in letting no-one know what that hamburger is made of. No, that metaphor is not in the podcast. I just thought of it now.

We finish with a discussion of the genres we’ve blended in our own work, and Brandon tells us about the science fiction story he’s decided to work on.

This episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery. Pre-orders close this Wednesday!

Writing Prompt: Combine “Horror” and “Western” and don’t make it look like either one.

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 | March 28, 2010 - 7:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Genre, Sci-fi, Setting, Structure, World Building

“Dude, that’s totally epic.”

“Epic fail! Epic fail!”

These phrases have only passing relation to epic storytelling, and to epic fantasy. Brandon and Howard write epics, and we’re going to talk about how we do it. And Dan’s going to help, because even if his launching-this-week I Am Not a Serial Killer novel is not an epic, Dan knows his stuff.

(Also, epic win for Dan! His book launches this week!)

We talk about some of our favorite epic fantasy and epic science fiction series, and then discuss elements like scope, plotlines, and characters. We also address some of the common pitfalls new writers fall into when trying to write their first epic.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Uplift Trilogy: Brightness Reef, Infinity’s Shore, and Heaven’s Reach by David Brin

Writing Prompt: Google “Epic Win” (or just visit “Epic Win FTW“), take one of the images on the site, and then craft an epic story around that image.

Joke Not Told By Howard In The Podcast: If a new writer attempts to create an epic and falls flat on his or her face in the attempt, it is, in fact, Epic Fail.

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By Writing Excuses | April 4, 2010 - 8:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Horror, Plot

We called “can-of-worms” on multiple viewpoints last week because the topic is too big to share the ‘cast with anything else. We talk about why multiple viewpoints are useful, and then how to do it well. We discuss the pitfalls and how to avoid them, and then the strategies we use to pull off multiple viewpoints well.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: John Ringo’s Live Free or Die, in which the main character is based on Howard Tayler, only shorter and more Napoleonic.

Writing Excuses Podcaster Book Launch-of-the-Week: I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells is available now in the United States, and he’s on tour promoting it.

Writing Prompt: Write a multiple viewpoint story in which a single tree serves as the focus for each of the different viewpoints.

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

Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership*. *Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please! Audible® Free Trial Details Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.

By Writing Excuses | May 30, 2010 - 9:26 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Genre, Government, Live, magic, Setting, World Building

Coming to you “live” from CONduit, Writing Excuses is pleased to welcome fantasy superstar L.E. Modesitt (plus a slightly different Howard, by which we mean that Howard was out of town and replaced by Dan’s brother Rob).

Our topic for this episode is “practicality,” which is another way of saying “fantasy and science fiction may be unrealistic, but they should still be plausible within your definition of reality.” In other words, if you have an army of 1000 armored knights, you’d better have an economy and political system capable of producing and supporting them.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Imager by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., about a mage so powerful anything he thinks can become reality.

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By Writing Excuses | January 23, 2011 - 7:00 pm - Posted in Alternate History, Fantasy, general, Genre, Guest, World Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Writing Excuses | February 6, 2011 - 9:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Humor, Sci-fi, Setting, World Building

Mary Robinette Kowal and Dave Wolverton again join Dan and Howard, and this time we’re talking about holidays in fantasy and science-fiction. This ‘cast was recorded at Superstars Writing Seminars, and  Moses Siregar III of Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing captured us on video as we recorded.

What sorts of things result in holidays? Historically we see them at the solstices and the equinoxes, planting and harvest, and commemorations of important events. We talk about all of these, and how to work them into your own writing without sounding like you’re just filing the serial numbers off of Christmas, Halloween, and Mardi Gras.

So of course we also talk about how to do this wrong.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: METAtropolis: Cascadia, by Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, Ken Scholes, Karl Schroeder, and Tobias Buckell, and narrated by Rene Auberjonois, Kate Mulgrew, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and Jay Lake.

Writing Prompt: Make up a holiday that isn’t based on anything you’ve seen.

Exclamation Howard Thought He’d Never Use: Bone Puppet Day!

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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 | May 8, 2011 - 7:37 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Setting, World Building

Saladin Ahmed, Nebula- and Campbell-award nominee joins Brandon and Howard at Penguicon 9.0 in Troy, Michigan for a discussion of setting — specifically, setting an epic fantasy in something besides the traditional, Western European middle ages.

We talk about the importance of familiarity, and how we balance that against more exotic elements. Saladin offers us some tools and tricks for doing this. One of these is the “Daily Life In” series of books, research tools for authors wanting to leverage ancient Rome, Egypt, or other places in the creation of their settings. Yes, you might want to go out and buy a book or two after we’re done.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Inheritance Trilogy, Book 1, by N. K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Writing Prompt: Describe a food that is familiar to you from the point of view of a character who has never encountered it, nor anything like it.

Did You Hear Something Different? This episode marks the debut of our new digital mixer! We’re new to it, but so far it’s wonderful. Also, this is the third or fourth episode where Mary Robinette Kowal has voiced the sponsorship plug. Expect to hear a LOT more from her in Season Six…

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By Writing Excuses | May 15, 2011 - 7:16 pm - Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Genre, Guest, Humor, Live

Jim Hines joins Brandon and Howard at Penguicon for a discussion of parody, satire, and why things are funny.

We start by defining parody and satire, and then Jim tells us why he wrote his he-calls-them-satirical Goblin novels, and why aspects of gamer culture so badly need to be satirized. Howard provides his formula for delivering the satire in Schlock Mercenary, and then we begin bandying about the terms “absurdification,” “commodification,” and “DisneyficationTM.”

And believe it or not, we manage to discuss humor in a way that is actually funny, at least some of the time.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev, narrated by Cynthia Bishop

Writing Prompt: Start with a highly magical, pseudo-medieval fantasy setting. Now… how do you deal with baldness?

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By Writing Excuses | May 29, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Conventions, Fantasy, Genre, Guest, Humor, Live

Filk.

It sounds like a bad word.

Okay, what it actually sounds like, provided you’ve fallen in among actual filkers, is AWESOME. It’s music named after a typo, and sung around subjects near and dear to genre fans.

Tom Smith, filker extraordinaire and musician magnifique, joins Brandon and Howard at Penguicon to talk about writing music, and to talk about the Filk genre in particular.

Our only episode with actual music in it, this is the last episode of Season 5, and Tom Smith sends us home with a brilliant little song he made up using requests from those in attendance. Tom, we expect an eventual epic song-cycle centering around “The Wizard of Wheat.”

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs.

Writing Prompt: Tom ended up singing his response to our writing prompt. What can you do with the words “wizard” and “bakery?”

Additional References for Filk: The FuMP, Filk resources on the Internet, and (per Tom’s suggestion) a YouTube search for Filk.

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By Writing Excuses | June 5, 2011 - 5:00 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Humor, Ideas

One of our most popular guests ever, Mary Robinette Kowal, finally joins Brandon, Dan, and Howard as a full-time cast-member. And now that she’s with us, we’re going to go back and revisit the very first topic we attempted to record (in a lost episode you can only hear in the bonus material on the 1st Season CD), which is whether or not creativity can be taught.

Mary says aspects of it can be taught. Howard’s inner Zen master says nothing can be taught, but anything can be learned. And from there we dive all the way in.

And you know what? Mary totally rescues the discussion, bringing perspectives that we were missing in that first session back in 2008. Especially right at the end, where she gives us some awesome creativity exercises.

Welcome to the team, Mary Robinette Kowal. We’ve needed you for three years.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1 by George R.R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice

Writing Prompt: Take one of the creativity exercises and run with it. Alternatively, use this mash-up: “The Silence of the Mexican Herbie Part 2: The Two Towers.”

Pearl of Wisdom Not To Be Taken The Wrong Way: “Stealing from children is an awesome tool.”

Liner Note Link: Here is the narration and context exercise Mary mentioned.

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Let’s talk commo! How does the ubiquity of communication tech affect your story? How far out of your own experience do you need to step in order to build a culture whose communications are believable?

We talk about the Great Wall of China, Napoleon’s visual semaphore, the Brin P2P Plan, and cell-phones in the X-files. Our goal? To get you to think about how the people in your stories communicate with each other, and how those communications can fail whether you’re writing fantasy or science-fiction.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson, narrated by Jonathan Davis.

Errata: The Ringworld is not 93 million miles in diameter. That was the approximate radius. Also, Howard got the circumference wrong. If only we’d had instant access to some sort of database, some network of computational resources while we were recording this episode…

Writing Prompt: Start with a fax machine, make it a 3d-printer/prototyper, and run from there…

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By Writing Excuses | September 4, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Guest, Setting

Patrick Rothfuss joins Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard at WorldCon 69, where we recorded before a live, enthusiastic audience.

The topic? Suspension of disbelief, specifically, how to get your readers to do this. Patrick leads us off with verisimilitude, and how the reader will accept the fantastic if you’re presenting the mundane in a believable way. We talk about laying groundwork, about Chekov’s gun, the promises we have to make to our readers, and the dramatic tool bathos.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl.

Writing Prompt: Make the reader believe one impossible thing. If you can’t think of something on your own, start with teleportation.

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By Writing Excuses | September 18, 2011 - 6:42 pm - Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Gender, Sci-fi, World Building

Keffy Kehrli joins Brandon, Mary, and Howard in front of a live audience at WorldCon 69 in Reno. He’s a Writers of the Future winner, a few votes short of being a Campbell Award nominee, and a female-to-male transsexual.

Mary leads us into this discussion, starting with how gender roles and gender identity lie along a continuum, defying the convenient descriptors that people typically employ, and how this can inform our writing. Keffy offers valuable tips, talking about what gets done wrong, and how to write it correctly.

We also talk about how this can apply to world-building, especially in fantasy where extended gender identities usually are not a consideration.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page

Writing Prompt: Take something that you do, something unique to you (and perhaps to your gender), and hand it to somebody in your book who appears unqualified for that task. Then qualify them for it.

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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 11, 2011 - 5:49 pm - Posted in Alternate History, Fantasy, Genre, Sci-fi

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman from the Interstitial Arts Foundation join Mary and Dan at World Fantasy to discuss things that fall into the gaps between the genres.

How do publishers, agents, and booksellers deal with titles that are speculative, but that cannot be easily categorized as science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, steampunk, or one of the other readily shelvable genres? And how should authors approach writing such titles?

(We apologize for Dan’s low volume — neither Producer Jordo nor Howard were present to play engineer and catch the fact that Dan’s track wasn’t capturing any actual audio. Jordo did what he could to bump Dan’s volume up after the fact.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, narrated by the author along with a full voice cast and with additional cool soundscapes, is one of the Neil Gaiman Presents titles on Audible.

Writing Prompt: Try to write something that doesn’t fit neatly into the genres you’re familiar with.

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By Writing Excuses | February 12, 2012 - 8:15 pm - Posted in Alternate History, Fantasy, Genre, Season 7, Setting

We begin with a definition of Historical Fantasy that allows us narrow the topic and differentiate it from Alternate History. When we say historical fantasy we mean “adding magic to a historical period we want to write in.” We offer some examples of this, talk about why it’s popular right now, and then talk about how you as a writer can do this well.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: His Majesty's Dragon: Temeraire, Book 1, by Naomi Novik, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: Identify a historical period that you like, and write a story in that setting. Don't bother researching anything until you're done.

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By Writing Excuses | July 22, 2012 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Conventions, Criticism, Fantasy, Q&A, Sci-fi, Season 7

Microcasting! Again!! Now with exclamation points!!! You’ll have to have a listen for our answers, but here are the questions:

  • How do you deal with bad reviews?
  • How do you apply Brandon’s magic system rules to science fiction?
  • Dan, will you do the marshmallow voice for us again?
  • How do you keep tension high without exhausting the reader?
  • You’ve made your manuscript as good as you know how to. Now you need to make it even better, based on feedback. What do you do?
  • Any tips on creating suspension of disbelief?
  • How do you deal with annoying fans?

“Oddly, no. Sometimes you guys are dull.” 5:22, Mary Robinette Kowal.

Mary’s Shmoozing 101 Link: Right here.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, narrated by Jenny Sterlin

Writing Prompt: The story of the writer and her VERY ENTHUSIASTIC alien fan who is impossible to escape.

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Fans of role-playing games should know the name Monte Cook well, because he’s been writing some of the highest-profile tomes in the field for two-and-a-half decades now. Monte joins us in front of a live audience at GenCon Indy 2012 to talk about writing games.

We start by talking about some of the differences between straight-up prose, and prose tooled for games. With role-playing games, this often boils down to the fact that it’s not the writer doing the storytelling — it’s the role-players. The writer’s job is to provide the gamers with the tools they need. Monte and the hosts cover the roles of world-building, character development, and plotting, and talk a little about the path you might consider if you’re looking to get published in this field.

If you’re ready to relinquish story control to your readers, if you are prepared to let them breathe life into the places, monsters, and characters you’ve created, this is the episode for you.

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

Writing Prompt: For some reason one character is put into the body of another character.

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By Writing Excuses | October 21, 2012 - 9:33 pm - Posted in Business, Fantasy, Guest, Season 7

James L Sutter  joins us before a live audience at GenCon Indy for a discussion of tie-in fiction. James is a writer and editor, and is one of the co-creators of the Pathfinder system. He is the author of Pathfinder Tales: Death’s Heretic and is the editor in charge of all of Paizo’s Pathfinder fiction.

James leads by telling us that if you want to write for Pathfinder, the first thing you need to do is write something for somebody else. As the editor of that division at Paizo, he’s the gatekeeper, and that’s the first hurdle you need to clear. He also talks to us about what he’s looking for in an author.

We talk at length about the Pathfinder line, its genesis, and James’s mission with Paizo regarding the tie-in fiction. He tells us about the things that turn him off in a submitted manuscript, and what sorts of work he does with his writers to help make the tie-in fiction actually, you know, tie in.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Railsea, by China Mieville, narrated by Jonathan Crowley

Writing Prompt: Write a story in which all the characters are simultaneously the good guy AND the bad guy.

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By Writing Excuses | December 30, 2012 - 6:20 pm - Posted in Business, eBooks, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Season 7

And now, for the very last episode of Season 7, we shall chance taking a look forward. Is this prognostication, or reckless abandon? Neither! We get asked a lot about how the industry is changing, and how we’re adjusting to what we see happening. This isn’t us predicting the future: this is us interpreting what we’re seeing, and then describing how we plan to react.

  • Mary suggests that we’re seeing a swing from Fantasy to Science Fiction as the dominant speculative genre, and but she doesn’t plan to start writing nothing but sci-fi as a result.
  • Dan calls out a trend towards supplemental materials — shorts that tie in to flagship novels. He’s already taking part in this, and plans to keep doing it.
  • Howard hits the hot-button of “e-publishing,” and calls it “shortening the value chain.” He’s been making a living with it since it was basically brand-new, but he plans to continue to exploit the disruptions it creates — sometimes by lengthening the value chain.
  • Brandon sees increasing pressures for authors to promote themselves, (largely the result of exceptional cases of authors with good platforms), but suggests that the time can still be better spent writing more books.

And that’s it for us until 2013! We’ll be back next year with Season 8, and you’ll only have to wait a week for it to start airing.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Holter Graham

Writing Prompt: Figure out what you would like the future of writing to look like. Now write a story about how we get there.

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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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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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