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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By Writing Excuses | May 6, 2012 - 9:33 pm - Posted in Editing, Outlining, Plot, Prose, Q&A, Season 7

James Dashner joins us for a Q&A at Utah Valley University during Life, The Universe, and Everything.

The first question starts out amazingly rough, but the 12-year-old asking it manages to stick the landing. The questions include:

  • Why is the ARC of James’ first book so different from the later books?
  • How do you handle paragraph- and sentence-level edits?
  • How do you plot your stories?
  • How do you craft endings that are both satisfying, and leave the reader wanting more?
  • What do you do when your compelling villain threatens to take over the whole book?

That Panel Howard Talked About: It’s actually at the end of Massively Parallel, and you can look at it right here.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Everneath, by Brody Ashton, narrated by Amy Rubinate

Writing Prompt: You get kidnapped and put in an asylum for the criminally sane.

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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 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 9, 2012 - 10:20 pm - Posted in Outlining, Pacing, Plot, Season 7

Mary has a distinctive outlining methodology, and this episode is all about it. She tells us about roadmaps, layers, thumbnails, under paintings, synopses, and more, in the order in which those elements usually appear.

The discussion of pacing vs. plot is particularly useful. Especially if you’re Howard.

Mary then takes us through the process of outlining a specific short story which, as of this cast, she had not yet written. Also, this episode is part of a sequence that was recorded in a different order than that in which it aired. Our bad! Here’s the one you probably wanted to listen to first.

The outline itself can be found here.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Dragon Factory, by Jonathan Mayberry, narrated by Ray Porter

Writing Prompt: Give us a magic system in which the thumbnail, the under painting, the other imagery are the basis for the magic.

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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 | February 10, 2013 - 7:08 pm - Posted in Characters, Outlining, Plot, Research, Season 8

Retellings are pretty popular right now. Game of Thrones is a retelling the War of the Roses. The Thirteenth Warrior is a retelling of Beowulf, and The Lion King is a retelling of Hamlet. Why do we write these? What do we like about them?

Familiar stories let us explore things in new ways, both because we know what’s coming, and because we don’t need to be brought up to speed on the story.

The line between retelling and adaptation is a blurry one, though. For writers, a good approach, especially early on, is to grab a great story, peel everything away to the plot and key characters, and start writing something new.

On This Date Five Years Ago: the very first episode of Writing Excuses appeared online. 260 weekly episodes later, here we are.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, narrated by Rebecca Soler

Writing Prompt: Do a retelling of a Bible story in a science fiction space setting.

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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 7, 2013 - 5:51 pm - Posted in Characters, Live Audience, Outlining, Pacing, Scenes, Season 8, Structure

What determines our chapter breaks? How do we handle POV shifts, scene-sequel balance, and other considerations when we’re carving our stories into chapters?

Dan starts with a discussion of the POV considerations in Fragments and in Ruins (from the Partials series,) and Brandon contrasts that with some of the epic fantasy methods. We argue the respective merits and pitfalls of rapid switching and large blocks, and then we talk about how the chapters take shape during our outlines and initial drafts.

Episode Trivia: This was the first episode we recorded at the Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat, and was the first time in a year that the four of us had been together to record. So rusty!

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan, narrated by Christian Rodska

Writing Prompt: Outline a two-character plot arc, and then break it into chapters. Experiment with big blocks and little blocks of POV in this chapter-chopped outline, and consider how this will affect the arc.

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By Writing Excuses | July 21, 2013 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Business, Discovery Writing, Outlining, Season 8, Structure

We recorded this episode in front of our live audience at the first-ever Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat. Here are the questions (you’ll have to listen for the answers):

  • To Dan: How did you go about selling your first trilogy in Germany before selling it in the US
  • To Howard: did you consider doing a separate storyline on Sunday strips? Why or why not?
  • Have you transitioned between outlining and discovery writing?
  • To Brandon: Why is John Scalzi your evil nemesis?
  • To Dan and Howard (and Mary): When you had full-time work, what did you do to “reset” when you came home from work, especially since your job used the same parts of your brain that writing does?

A Humble Suggestion for the Name of John Scalzi’s Next Band: Neil Gaiman’s Eagle Balls

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Human Division, by John Scalzi, narrated by William Dufris. (We were told that Wil Wheaton would be narrating this, but according to Audible the narrator is William Dufris.)

Writing Prompt: Someone is doing a puppetry move so extreme they end up hospitalized.

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Recorded live at GenCon Indy, Sam Logan of Sam & Fuzzy joins Brandon, Mary, and Howard to talk about long-form storytelling. Sam’s webcomic has been running for eleven years now, and has evolved over time into something of an epic.

Sam talks to us about how he got started, and how the strip morphed from its gag-a-day origins into what it is today (is this similar to what happened with Howard and Schlock Mercenary? Maaaaaybe.) He also talks about his planning process, and the manner in which he structures the smaller stories to fit inside the larger ones.

If you’re looking for a good starting point for Sam and Fuzzy, Sam says that point is right here.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Feed, by M. T. Anderson, narrated by David Aaron Baker

Writing Prompt: Go for a walk. Think about what you're writing while you walk. Don't do that Facebook or Twitter thing while you walk. Just walk, and think.

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What do you do when the ending you’ve planned won’t be emotionally satisfying? You know, when you’ve discovered during the course of writing the story that you’re making promises to the reader that this particular ending won’t keep?

Mary talks about her recent experience with this exact problem in an as-yet-unpublished project. Howard talks about how he had to come up with a new set of concluding moments for Longshoreman of the Apocalypse (which you can read for free here.) Dan weighs the difficulties he’s having with a current project, and how he had to brainstorm what the story was supposed to be accomplishing, rather than simply what the plot was.

We examine the various tools that we use to solve this problem, which probably offers you some motivation to keep filling your own toolbox.

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Vortex: Insignia, Book 2, by S.J. Kincaid, narrated by Lincoln Hoppe (Small world! Howard worked with Lincoln Hoppe twenty years ago, running sound for The Garrens Comedy Troupe while Lincoln was on stage being funny and amazing. You should let Lincoln read to you!)

Writing Prompt: Take a story you've already written, and write a completely different ending for it.

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