By Writing Excuses | February 14, 2010 - 6:39 pm - Posted in Guest, Horror, Humor, Live, Pacing, Structure

This episode was recorded live at Life, The Universe, & Everything 28, The BYU Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy, and features, among other things, our largest audience ever.

Oh, and James Dashner, our friend and the author of The Maze Runner.

It also features what has to be our roughest start ever. We don’t get to actual content until around four minutes in. Seventeen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re pretending this was an object lesson. Also, we love picking on our friend James.

Pacing! What do we do so that people keep turning pages? Which useful tricks do we hate? Which subtle methods do we prefer? And most importantly, what does James Dashner do? We talk about reveals, punchlines, cliffhangers, chapter length, and the “Brandon Avalanche.” Also, we talk briefly about the look on my face, and the roof of James’ mouth.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Ender’s Game: Special 20th Anniversary Edition by Orson Scott Card

Writing Prompt: Someone opens a door, and finds a wet, seeping cardboard box on the doorstep.

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By Writing Excuses | September 26, 2010 - 7:26 pm - Posted in Horror, Humor, Mystery, Pacing, Suspense

This episode of Writing Excuses features our special guest, Smokey-Smoke Sanderson who spent the first half of September on tour abusing his voice.

Suspense! What is it? What isn’t it? What is the relationship between suspense and mystery, and for that matter horror, humor, and adventure? This ‘cast is chock full of pithy quotes, useful advice, and anecdotal examples.

Oh, and a bomb. THERE IS A BOMB HIDDEN UNDER THE TABLE.

DUN DUN DUN DUUNNNN!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson, which was the #1 bestselling book on Audible the week prior to this recording. Forty-five hours and thirty minutes of Sandersonian fantastical goodness, read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading.

Writing Prompt: “I have coated my left hand with magical ink.”

That Episode on Pacing We Promised to Link To: Right here, and it features James Dashner!

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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 | December 25, 2011 - 6:58 pm - Posted in Collaboration, Pacing, Plot, Season, Season 6

Merry Christmas! Here’s the last episode of Writing Excuses Season 6! We decided to end the season with a discussion of endings. Specifically, we answer cries for help that we’ve gotten. The cries answered include:

  • I’m 90% done and I’ve painted myself into a corner! How do I end this book without resorting to deus ex machina?
  • The best part of this book was 75% of the way through! I need the highlight to be at the END!
  • My outline isn’t working here at the end! How do I know when to abandon it?
  • Help! I want both a satisfying ending and room for a sequel! (hint: we use an object lesson here…)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Try it narrated by Stephen Fry, or try out the original radio teleplays!

Writing Prompt: Dan needs a hamburger. What's stopping him? And what is he going to end up with instead of a hamburger? (Hint: it should be more satisfying than the end he had in mind at the beginning...)

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By Writing Excuses | May 27, 2012 - 5:27 pm - Posted in Business, Characters, Pacing, Plot, Q&A, Season 7

A microcast is our word for an asynchronous Q&A episode: you ask us tons of questions online, either through twitter or facebook or our listenermail account (on the sidebar), and we want to answer as many of them as we can. Not every answer can fill an entire episode, though, so we take the smaller ones and cover a bunch of them at once in a microcast. This week we take a brief, pithy look at the following:

  • Prologues and epilogues
  • Using drawings to get across settings
  • Simple tricks for naming things
  • Would you self publish if you had a do over?
  • How do you keep a powerful character interesting?
  • Foreshadowing
  • Trimming
  • Flashbacks

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Writing Prompt: Write a flashback, in a prologue, with a mirror scene. Yes.

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There are a lot of things that Our Very Own Brandon Sanderson can get away with. In The Way of Kings, he gets away with not just one, but TWO prologues. In this ‘cast Mary, Dan, and Howard get to grill Brandon about his opening epic, The Way of Kings.

This is the second entry in our “Project in Depth” series in which three of the cast members gang up on the fourth and ask them all about one of their books.

We get answers about the prelude/prologue decision, the extremism of the setting, and lots of information about why this book needed three different major character POVs. Brandon talks in detail about some of the character problems he encountered with Dalinar in the early drafts of the book. If anything, this part of the discussion points up the importance of a good re-write.

Finally, Brandon talks about his naming conventions.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Stranger in a Strange Land (unabridged), by Robert A. Heinlein, narrated by Christopher Hurt

Writing Prompt: Take a character of yours, and split that character into a character and a foil.

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By Writing Excuses | June 24, 2012 - 6:23 pm - Posted in Live, Pacing, Q&A, Season 7, Structure, Theme, Voice

Recorded live at Utah Valley University, here’s another Q&A episode from the LTUE Symposium!

The questions:

  • What was Brandon’s plan with Mistborn and the themes regarding establishment?
  • Why does Kelsier shrug so much? (This leads into a fun discussion of “tells.”)
  • How do you know when to stop a chapter? What about expanding it?
  • How do you make your prose more transparent?
  • How do you decide who and what to cut?
  • What do you do to filter out the extraneous ideas that come while you’re writing?
  • What can collaborators do in order to create a single “voice” for the book?
  • What’s the best way to tackle a long back-story?
Want answers? You’ll just have to listen…

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

Writing Prompt: From Earl K. Hill, our cameraman: tell a whole story from the view of the sidekick.

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By Writing Excuses | September 16, 2012 - 4:29 pm - Posted in Characters, Pacing, Romance, Scenes, Season 7

Shanna Germain joins Brandon, Mary, and Howard in front of a live audience at GenCon Indy to talk about writing love scenes. They’re not easy to get right, and they can be even more difficult to talk about it in a way that leaves the Writing Excuses team’s “clean” rating intact.

We cover the ways in which the love scenes must support the story, and the importance of tension in setting those scenes up. Mary asks the question foremost in all our minds: how do you write a sex scene so that it’s not silly? Shanna fields it with aplomb, explaining how she lets the characters drive it, washing unintentional humor out of the scene.

We also talk about how difficult it can be for those writing the POV of the opposite sex to get the head-space details right, and how love scenes fit into the pacing of your work.

What You Missed: Prior to recording this episode, in an effort to get all the nervous giggles and snerky titters worked out of our live audience, Mary read a portion of a recently released Pathfinder novel in her “one-nine-hundred” voice. No, we did not record it. Some things are meant to be loved, then lost.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Shanna plugged "One Hot Summer," but the actual title is One Long Hot Summer. It is not currently available Audible, but it's available on Amazon at the link above. There are lots of OTHER things on Audible for you to listen to, including four titles featuring Shanna Germain.

Writing Prompt: Put your characters in a place they cannot escape, and keep them there.

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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 | 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 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 | May 5, 2013 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Pacing, Prose, Scenes, Season 8

Blocking! What is it, why is it important, and how can you do it well?

We begin with a definition (blocking is the part of the narrative that tells the reader where the characters are, where the scenery is, and how these things are interacting) and then talk about why it’s important, especially how it applies to “show, don’t tell,” and how the needs of the story will dictate what actually needs to be shown.

Finally, we discuss how to block scenes effectively, and how each of us do it.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Monster Hunter Alpha, by Larry Correia, narrated by Oliver Wyman

Writing Prompt: Write a fight scene. Bonus points if it's got four people in it. We don't know what you'll spend those points on.

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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 | 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!

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible. Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership*.

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* Get your first 30 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one credit. In almost all cases, one credit equals one audiobook. After your 30 day trial, your membership will automatically renew each month for just $14.95, billed to the credit card you used when you registered with Audible. With your membership, you will receive one credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. If you cancel your membership before your free trial period is up, you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. See the complete terms and policy applicable to Audible memberships.

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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SPOILER ALERT!

This is our fourth and final SHADOWS BENEATH story critique episode. This episode’s story, “An Honest Death,” by Howard Tayler, 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 a few of the first-printing hardcovers left, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the electronic edition at no additional charge.

This week we find Howard in trouble. He is, in a word, stuck.

Can our heroes help him? Can special guest Eric James Stone lend enough of his special guest expertise to complete the rescue?

We start with a discussion of what was working, so that Howard doesn’t accidentally “fix” something that isn’t broken. Then we wade into the weeds and go hunting for the pieces he needs in order to finish the story. And when we say “the weeds,” we’re talking serious wandering. The episode runs a full half-hour long…

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Writing Prompt: You have, with actual paint, painted yourself into an actual corner. But the paint and the corner are in a world in which there is magic, and "you painted yourself into a corner" may very well be some sort of a spell.

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