By Writing Excuses | June 15, 2008 - 9:08 pm - Posted in Guest, Liner Notes, Plot, Season 1

Michael Stackpole, author and podcaster, joined us at CONduit, and the four of us tackled plot twists in front of a live audience. Whether you write from a solid outline or discover your plot as you go, we’ve got tricks and tools for you. We talk about “surprising yet inevitable,” the fine art of making our characters miserable, and the importance of foreshadowing (but not telegraphing) the twist.

Liner Notes:

Michael Stackpoles’ official website, and the site where he hosts his podcasts.

By Writing Excuses | June 22, 2008 - 9:09 pm - Posted in Business, Guest, Liner Notes, Live, Plot, Q&A, Season 1

Writer Eric James Stone joins the Writing Excuses crew for our third Conduit installment. We tackle questions from the audience again (except for when Brandon throws a question AT the audience, which still had Mike Stackpole in it.)

Are plot twists necessary? How does the web change the market for writers? How do you make protagonists as interesting as the villains are? How much should you charge for your work?

We ran a little long on this one. “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we can’t count to fifteen without getting to eighteen first.”

Liner Notes:

Eric’s Website

Bob Defendi’s Website

Anthology Builder

http://www.ralan.com/

This week’s episode is sponsored by Hold on to Your Horses, by Sandra Tayler

By Writing Excuses | July 7, 2008 - 8:04 am - Posted in Plot, Scenes, Season 1, Writing Prompt

As a writer it’s sometimes difficult to decide between doing things the readers want, and things that are right for the story. But as Dan says, writers can get away with doing things to readers that readers would never do to themselves.

Beware! This podcast contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings, Return of the Jedi, and Serenity (the statute of limitations should have passed on all of these) as well as for the current week of Schlock Mercenary.

This Week’s Episode is brought to you by one of our favorite causes, “Buy Dan Bacon.” Mmmm, bacon.

By Writing Excuses | September 2, 2008 - 8:32 am - Posted in Business, Editing, Guest, Live, Plot, Season 1

Last week we talked to an editor, this week we talk to OUR editor: Brandon’s and Dan’s editor at Tor, Moshe Feder. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about how an author and editor work together to help make a book the best it can possibly be. We also talk a lot about revision in general, which is one of the least-liked but most important tasks in the writing process.

By Writing Excuses | September 29, 2008 - 7:46 am - Posted in Ideas, Plot, Scenes, Season 1, Writing Prompt

Like all right-thinking people, we loved The Dark Knight–but because we are also writers obsessed with the craft of storytelling, we liked it for very specific, very nerdy reasons. Join us as we take a journey through What The Dark Knight Did Right: strong characters,  excellent dialogue, a layered plot that blended perfectly (and unexpectedly) with the central themes, and more.

Writing Prompt: Pull out an old piece of writing from the last year or so. Pick a dialogue scene and try to take each piece of dialogue up a half of a notch, evoking a little more character. The outcome or conclusion of the dialogue scene should remain the same.

Eric James Stone joins us for our final Mountain-Con episode. This Q&A covers writing part-time (and Dan disqualifies himself from answering this question in future episodes), setting deadlines for yourself, writing plot twists, and providing character description within that character’s viewpoint.

By Writing Excuses | November 16, 2008 - 5:42 pm - Posted in Editing, Live, Plot, Season 2, Writing Prompt

Episode 6, recorded live at Dragon’s Keep opens with monkey noises and greeting-card pith, and ends with… well, we’ll just let you listen. Is it a storybook ending? What IS a storybook ending? What is a whiz-bang ending? Is the ending the ending, or is the ending followed by a denouement? How important is a good ending?

Writing Prompt: Take whatever you’re working on right now, look at the ending you have planned now and then come up with two other endings and write all three.

This week Writing Excuses is brought to you by Geek at Play Studio.

Howard, Dan, and guest Bob Defendi open this episode with some high literary humor. Bob fills in for Brandon as we discuss formulas writers use in crafting stories. But how do we prevent those stories from feeling formulaic? Can the formulas themselves help? We discuss (at a high level) the three-act format, the hero’s journey, the romance, the two-act format, try-fail cycles, and others.

This week’s episode is brought to you by the podcast audiobook Death by Cliché, by Robert J. Defendi. We didn’t plug it very hard in the episode itself, but oh, MAN you need to listen to it. Howard hasn’t laughed that hard in a long time.

With Brandon still mysteriously missing, Professor Bob Defendi returns to take Dan and Howard on a magical journey through the three-act format: every step, every element, every nuance of this very common and very helpful writing structure. The only way you could conceivably learn more is in a magic school bus, and frankly we don’t think that’s very likely.

This week’s episode is brought to you by Bob’s podcast audiobook Death by Cliché, by Robert J. Defendi. No matter how hilarious you think this is going to be, it’s actually more hilarious than that.

Writing Prompt: Plot out a three act structure for a current project or a new one.

By Writing Excuses | April 12, 2009 - 5:43 pm - Posted in Grammar and Spelling, Plot, Prose, Writing Prompt

As a writer you obviously know how to read. But being a writer changes how you read, and what you read, and even why you read. Do you read more, or less as a writer? How do you read so that your reading doesn’t interfere with writing? How do you channel your reading into bettering your writing? And what’s the difference between a critical reader and a book critic?

Writing Prompt: Write a story about a critic, but a critic who criticizes something abnormal like Cement Mixers.

Last week we talked about reading critically, reading as writers. This week we decided to apply that critical reading skill to Watchmen, the Hugo award-winning graphic novel by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins. We start (once we get past the donuts in our mouths) by breaking it down into character, setting, and plot, and then we further dissect each of those elements based on what we thought of them.

This episode is chock full of spoilers. If you’re planning on reading Watchmen for the first time (or seeing the movie), you probably ought to do that before  you let us ruin it for you.

Writing Prompt: Write an alternate history for 2009 taking stylistic cues from Watchmen.

By Writing Excuses | April 26, 2009 - 8:40 pm - Posted in Plot, Scenes, Writing Prompt

Let’s talk about failure… but let’s talk about it so that we can avoid it.  How do you know if your ending has flopped?  What kind of approaches to ending a story should you be avoiding? How can you recognize these approaches in time to avoid them? The best approach? Identify the promises you’ve made to your readers, and then fulfil them with your ending. Okay, now you don’t have to listen.

Writing Prompt: Start your book with an ending where everyone dies.

This weeks Writing Excuses is brought to you by Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, Book 3 of the Mistborn series now in paperback.

Here’s the second part of our three-part “what we learned this year” series. This time around Brandon tells us the most important thing he learned this year. Summed up? Gimmicks cannot compensate for bad writing.

So… what’s a gimmick? We begin with hooks and pitches, but gimmicks can include things like photo-realistic cover art, internet grass-roots campaigns, and factoids like “the author is only 17 years old.” Story elements like cool magic systems, uniquely alien aliens, and diamond-hard science can all be gimmicks. They’re good to have, certainly, and they can work to sell the book, but real staying power (read: earning out your advance, and getting royalty checks for years to come) comes from good writing, page after page.

Brandon confesses to some gimmick use himself, but fortunately we (and many of his readers) believe that his writing is strong enough that we don’t begrudge him the gimmick one bit.

This week’s episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you again by the opportunity you have to sponsor Writing Excuses.

Writing Prompt:  An author comes up with a wacky, crazy gimmick for a book… and then it happens to the author in real life.

By Writing Excuses | June 8, 2009 - 12:02 am - Posted in Plot, Style, Writing Prompt

Don’t you just hate it when things unfold out of order? Why do writers do that?

We explain why they do it, and how they do it, and then we discuss how to avoid some common mistakes. Non-linear storytelling is inherently risky, after all. Maybe not as risky as jumping ahead two episodes in a non-serial podcast schedule, but it’s still life on the edge.

Writing Prompt: Write a story about a flashback that is completely false…

This week’s episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by  Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, now available in hardback from TOR.

(If you’re waiting for Episodes 2 and 3, we’ll flash back to them in due time…)

By Writing Excuses | June 14, 2009 - 8:41 pm - Posted in Characters, Guest, Live, Plot, Setting

This episode was recorded live at CONduit in Salt Lake City with special guest Aprilynne Pike. Our topic: How do we “keep it real” when writing speculative fiction? What does that even mean?

(Okay, it means making the stuff that exists in real life seem real.)

Short answer: Research. We talk about how we go about researching the “real” elements of our various works, all the while trying hard not to go “squee” with our very first #1 New York Times Bestelling guest. We also discuss many of the shortcuts and tricks we fall back on.

This week’s episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by editor Stacy L. Whitman and her World-Building in Middle Grade and Young Adult Speculative Fiction Seminar. The seminar will be held at the Provo Library in Provo, Utah from 1:00pm to 5:00pm on Saturday, June 27th, 2009. The deadline for registration is June 19th.

By Writing Excuses | July 7, 2009 - 9:59 am - Posted in Plot, Structure, Writing Prompt

What are dramatic breaks? We open this episode with Howard very genuinely playing Doctor Watson to Brandon’s Holmes, which is amusing because as it turns out, Howard uses dramatic breaks every day. Simply put they are the points in the narrative, typically at the end of a chapter, where we cut to another scene. Sometimes we are shifting perspective, sometimes we are advancing the clock, and sometimes we’re merely pausing to take a breath.

What are we looking for in a dramatic break? How do we identify the right place to cut away from one group of characters and focus on others? How do we avoid doing it the same way every time?

And so we discuss those stopping points and the starting points that follow them. We cover the flow of time and the flow of story. We talk about delivering satisfying installments. We even hang from a cliff or two.

Meanwhile…

This episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery by Tracy & Curtis Hickman, illustrated by Howard Tayler. Autograph editions are now on pre-order!

Writing Prompt: Write a story in which Howard hates elephants and dramatically breaks one.

By Writing Excuses | August 16, 2009 - 6:05 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Plot

Meanwhile, several side-characters found themselves looking for a sub-plot in the tavern. Something funny, or perhaps romantic to take the load off of the main story, but still tense enough to keep the pace going. Or maybe something that will let them introduce important elements to the main plot without the reader knowing that’s what’s going on…

And that’s pretty much what subplots are, and what they’re for. But if we skip to the ending that way they can’t do their job! So listen to the whole eighteen-minute podcast, and we’ll rejoin our main characters next week, as the automated orbital lance counts down to zero…

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!

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

Your writing prompt: Bugs are now magical. Ohcrap.

*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 | November 1, 2009 - 9:15 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Plot

Question: Can you write a good book without a plot twist?

Better question: is it a good book if your readers predicted what was coming?

Best question: is a podcast about predictable prose itself predictable?

No, seriously… the best question is “how can we use predictable, formulaic plotting effectively?” We actually answer that one.

Writing Prompt: “Sense & Sensibility & Terrorists”

By Writing Excuses | December 13, 2009 - 11:30 pm - Posted in Characters, Narrator, Plot

This episode totally would have updated earlier if I’d only known sooner that it was ready to go. Jordo says he emailed me early this evening, but if he HAD then you’d have been listening to this by 8:00pm Sunday.

So… how much of that do you believe? Is the Narrator lying to you, or is he just wrong?  Maybe he is lying to himself, and thinks he’s being honest with you.

Most importantly, though, how does any of this apply to your writing? Well, that’s what the podcast is for…

Writing Prompt: Have an event occur, and then provide five different character perspectives on the event… none of which are completely accurate.

Note: this episode updated a little late because I wanted an object lesson in the write-up, not because I was relaxing on the couch until 11:15pm.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

By Writing Excuses | December 27, 2009 - 6:21 pm - Posted in Plot

Tragedy. It’s just TRAGIC. Tragedy is also one of the classical forms that writers need to know how to work within. Why? Well… because the Greeks thought we should be forced to have strong emotional responses to literature.

Writing Prompt: Write a delightful story about happy, cheerful anthropomorphic creatures who all die horribly.

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 Howard Tayler | February 21, 2010 - 6:32 pm - Posted in Career, Conventions, Education, Guest, Live, Plot, Q&A

Recorded live at LTUE 2010, here’s a high-energy Q&A session with the Writing Excuses crew and our special guest James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner. We cover outlining vs. discovery writing, the return to the hairy palate, education for writers, killing people, whether or not we want a bagel, pragmatic approaches, authors who don’t inspire us (and by “us” we mean “James Dashner”), and cooking up complex plots.

Note: Brandon says “Episode 6″ but he was totally wrong. This is 4.7, for real.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: James pitches one of his favorites to usFalse Memory by Dean Koontz

Writing Prompt: You’re flying in an airplane when a wing falls off… but the plane keeps going.

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 | March 21, 2010 - 7:47 pm - Posted in Ideas, Plot

Let’s mix things up a bit, shall we? Your Writing Excuses hosts are going to brainstorm for you, and we’re going into it completely cold. By “cold” we mean to say that we have no idea what fodder we’re getting before the cast starts.

Producer Jordo reads quirky news headlines. Brandon, Dan, and Howard take these headlines and brainstorm them into plot, setting, and/or character ideas. And yes, if you want to use one or more of these yourself, go right ahead.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Writing Prompt: Brainstorm your own from this headline: New Zealand Woman Sells Souls To The Highest Bidder… but don’t spoil the process by looking up the actual article.

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 | 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 9, 2010 - 5:58 pm - Posted in Artwork, Genre, Ideas, Plot, Setting, World Building

We here at Writing Excuses have talked about the Anxiety of Influence before, we’ve discussed genre-blending, and we’ve talked about where ideas come from. Now we’re going to blend all of those in one ‘cast as we talk about stealing stuff without plagiarizing.

You can call it “borrowing” if you want to, but as Howard Tayler once said, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” (Note: It’s possible that Pablo Picasso also said this.) We offer examples from books, film, music, and the visual arts — done right, done wrong, and done award-winningly well. If you’re coming up short on ideas, this is the ‘cast for you. It’s probably a good ‘cast even if you’re NOT coming up short on ideas.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Neil Himself, which is a great example of stealing (from Kipling in this case) and getting away with it (and getting a Hugo Award in this case.)

Writing Prompt: Hit the button labeled “click here to be randomly teraported into the archives” at Schlock Mercenary (it’s under the calendar navigation to the right of the comic), read three or four strips, and steal from them to create something new.

Funny Song That Would Have Been Funnier If We’d Mentioned Baloo The Zombear: “Brain Necessities.”

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

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*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 | 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.

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 | 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.

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 | July 18, 2010 - 7:21 pm - Posted in Conflicts, Ideas, Plot, Structure

When Oscar Hammerstein wrote “Let’s start at the very beginning // A very good place to start” he was talking about teaching children to sing, not writing a novel. Sometimes the beginning is the very worst place to start, so in this ‘cast the Writing Excuses crew starts at the end.

Dan leads with a reminder that we should all watch his five-part lecture on story structure, and then hits a couple of the high points in his process. Brandon points out that he and Dan both start in the same way, even though Dan usually discovery-writes his way to the selected ending, and Brandon typically outlines towards it in advance of putting chapters down. Unsurprisingly, Howard starts in the same place.

So what are the problems with working backwards? How do we prevent those things from happening? What are some great things about working backwards? How can we ensure that those happen every time?

That’s the first half of the ‘cast. The second half is a right treat, as you get to listen to Brandon, Dan, and Howard attempt to brainstorm a great ending from which they can work backwards to a beginning. Producer Jordo provides a pair of headlines as prompts, including programmable matter, Harley Davidson motorcycles, and a thrown puppy.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Furies of Calderon: Codex Alera Book 1, by Jim Butcher — a book that Brandon tells us was written when somebody dared Jim Butcher to build epic fantasy around Pokémon.

Writing Prompt: What’s the character arc for our mathematical analyst biker dude? Yes, you’ll have to listen to the ‘cast in order to figure this prompt out.

Sound Effect of the Week: George Jetson’s Harley

Weekly Feature You Won’t See Every Week: Sound Effect of the Week.

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

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*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 | August 22, 2010 - 8:17 pm - Posted in Business, Characters, Editing, Ideas, Plot

Recorded live at Dragons & Fairy Tales, this episode is for anybody who has a novel or two (or more) sitting in the bottom of their trunk. What are the best ways to re-use old material you’ve set aside? We talk about rewriting entire novels, repurposing plots or characters, and moving stories from one place to another.

Sometimes we do this because an idea is just too good to let sit, but the execution on that idea (at least the first time around) wasn’t good enough. And sometimes we shouldn’t do it at all.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Feed by Mira Grant – it’s 1/3 zombie novel, 2/3 political thriller.

Writing Prompt: “Interspeciated workplace.” Go!

Prompt #2: You just got a “Cease & Desist” from a webcartoonist…

Audience Noises: Delivered on cue, thanks to cleverly positioned signs…

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 | October 31, 2010 - 5:10 pm - Posted in Characters, Plot

John Brown joins us this week for a discussion of plot threads specific to characters. These can be the main plot thread, interesting sub-plots, or just things that shape characters. Sometimes they’re things we do deliberately, and sometimes we discovery-write our way into these arcs. We talk about how we do this, and how we know when it is (and isn’t!) working well.

We ran a little long, but there were four of us, and we put LOTS of nuts-and-bolts stuff in this ‘cast.

Writing Prompt: Your cast of characters is trapped on an emotionally-responsive roller-coaster that mimics their own emotional arcs. How do they use this knowledge?

This Tuesday: John’s first novel, Servant of a Dark God, is out in paperback!

ALSO This Tuesday: The polls are open for you, you citizens of the United States! Go vote!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Simon Jones.

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By Writing Excuses | November 21, 2010 - 7:46 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Plot, POV, Structure

How do you write the second book? Zombie John Brown joins us for a discussion of that second novel.

(Note: As of this writing, John Brown remains NOT DEAD. Not UNDEAD, mind you. NOT DEAD. John D. Brown, author, is alive and well, and his nose is healing up quite nicely.)

We’ve got three possible approaches to take. The first is “your second unpublished novel.” The second is “your second published book.” The third is “the second book in a series.” All three of these are worth discussing, so of course we give the second one a wide miss.

We start with that second unpublished novel. This is the book where you move past the momentary validation of finishing the first novel, and sit down at the keyboard again. The lessons learned during the first novel are applied quickly. We talk about some of those lessons, and how they applied to each of us.

We then talk about the second book in a series. We look at what works well in sequels, in second acts, and subsequent installments in an ongoing series. We talk about the dangers of sequel-itis, especially as Hollywood suffers from it, and how we can avoid falling into these traps.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, narrated by Richard Ferrone

Writing Prompt: The growth on your nose… is it an alien, is it occult, or are you going to tell a love story?

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By Writing Excuses | January 2, 2011 - 7:50 pm - Posted in Characters, Genre, Plot, Setting

Send your angry emails to Howard, because this was totally his idea.

This is a discussion of avoiding unnecessary offense. Sometimes, especially in humorous works, offense is a required risk, so that’s not where we’re going here. We’re going to talk about the sorts of things we sometimes do that offend our readers, and how we can prevent those sorts of elements from entering into our writing — at least into our final drafts.

Some of the offenses we might offer include talking down to the reader, certain racial and gender demographics, poor representation of a particular culture and/or gender (anyone remember RaceFail from two years ago?), straw men, potemkin villages, open moralizing, and breaking the promises we make to our readers.

Book of the Week: Dragon’s Ring by Dave Freer, available now in paperback from Baen Books. Ask for it by name at the bookstore.

Inspiration for This Podcast: A completely unrelated request from Oletta.

Howard’s New Band Name: “Nuke The Blue Monkeys”

Writing Prompt: Start with hard science-fiction, move to werewolf romance.


By Writing Excuses | January 9, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Artwork, Genre, Howard, Humor, Plot

Last week we wormcanned “fulfilling promises to the reader,” so this week we’ll tackle the discussion using actual examples. We start with a deconstruction of The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, which Howard wrote and illustrated in 2008 and 2009. We then spoil the story of the game Borderlands, talking about the woefully-unfulfilled promise made to the player. We also spoil Legion for you, but that film kind of ruined itself. A lot. At any rate, in both of these latter cases we talk about the promises being broken.

Then we talk about how we, as writers, know when we’re making promises to the reader, and what those promises are.

Dan talks about how, in the first draft of I Am Not a Serial Killer, the main character won out in the wrong way, and how he had to go back and fix the ending. He also talks about the biggest complaint anybody has with that book, and how that stems from the plot twist that, to some readers, breaks a promise inherent in the book’s genre. And that leads us into a discussion of Million Dollar Baby and of the first outline of Mistborn, which could have had a very, very disappointing ending.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, narrated by Adam Grupper

Writing Prompt: Pick a typical promise that a child might make, and use that as the promise you’re making to your readers.

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By Writing Excuses | January 30, 2011 - 6:12 pm - Posted in Business, Characters, Guest, Plot

Mary Robinette Kowal and Dave Wolverton join Dan and Howard for a discussion of movie considerations and formulas. Dave explains the three-act structure to us, and we talk about how this applies for transitioning stories to the screen.

And on the subject of screens, Moses Siregar III of Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing captured us on video as we recorded this ‘cast. It’s up on YouTube.

We talk about taglines, and for an example Mary tells us that Shades of Milk and Honey would be pitched as “Jane Austen with magic.” She then relates to us the tale of how Lou Anders Hollywood formula saved the ending of her book.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Runelords, by David Farland, narrated by Ray Porter. The first four books in the series which are available now in audio format.

Writing Prompt: Come up with an eight-word tagline for your novel or short story. It needs to be pithy, punchy, memorable, and easily comprehensible.

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By Writing Excuses | June 12, 2011 - 7:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Plot

If you have to ask yourself “what’s my motivation?” when you’re sitting down to write, this isn’t the podcast for you. We’re talking about character motivation in this cast.

Mary breaks it down into different aspects: what the character wants, and how that is expressed on the page. From there the analysis proceeds. We talk about how to do it, how others have done it, and what some of the pitfalls are.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, narrated by Katherine Kellgren, with Connie Willis reading the introduction. These two books have been nominated for the 2011 Best Novel Hugo.

Writing Prompt: Come up with a character motivation, and then an action that character must take which runs counter to that motivation.

That Distant Hum Ten Minutes In: Somebody decided to run the vacuum upstairs. It was a busy weekend at Chez Sanderson.

Liner Notes: Mary Robinette Kowal schooled us all back in Season Three with this discussion of puppetry.

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By Writing Excuses | June 26, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Business, Career, Humor, Lifestyle, Plot, Q&A, Structure, Submitting

Microcasting! It’s our high-speed Q&A! Here are the Q’s, listen to the ‘cast for the A’s.

  • Is it still safe to go the commercial publishing route?
  • How do you find the balance when writing serious stories with silliness in them?
  • What are the alternatives to three-act structure?
  • Do you ever lose your drive, and what re-inspires you when you do?
  • How does your writing life affect your non-writing life?
  • What was the defining moment in your life where you decided to become a writer?
  • How effective are book trailers?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: 1421: The Year China Discovered America, by Gavin Menzies, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: Give us a story in which writers are using actual fantastic creatures in the process of writing fantasy — ink from unicorn horns, elf-skin parchment, etc.

Promised Liner Note Links: Dan’s 7-point Story Structure,

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By Writing Excuses | July 31, 2011 - 8:29 am - Posted in Career, Characters, Liner Notes, Plot, Scenes

Microcasting again! The questions we fielded from the Twitterverse include:

  • How do you hold the whole story in your head when it’s a thousand pages long?
  • What steps do you use when creating a character?
  • As an outliner, when do you start putting in the details?
  • How do you patch plot holes?
  • How do you come up with names?
  • Is there one writing skill you’d like to get better at?
  • Writing groups: what do you look for?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Hard Magic, by Larry Correia, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

As Promised, Here is a Link: The Everchanging Book of Names

 

Speaking of the Twitterverse: The Writing Excuses team is BrandSanderson, MaryRobinette, HowardTayler, JohnCleaver (Dan), and MonkeySloth (Producer Jordo).

Writing Prompt: Someone has to save the world from an intercontinental ballistic hairball, but their keyboard layout has been changed.

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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 | October 2, 2011 - 4:35 pm - Posted in Characters, Guest, Plot, Theme

Lou Anders, Hugo-winning editorial director from Pyr books, joins Mary, Dan, and Howard at Dragon*Con for a discussion of the Hollywood Formula. Lou shared this with Mary originally, and she used it to tighten up some of her work. It’s useful enough that we decided to invite Lou onto the ‘cast to share it with everybody else, too.

The formula centers around three characters – the protagonist, the antagonist, and the relationship character. Lou explains how these terms have, in this formula, different meanings than we might be accustomed to.

Among the things that we learn:  The Dark Knight has an antagonist none of us could guess, Die Hard and Stargate are third-act movies, and Howard is criminally ignorant of classic cinema.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald, narrated by Jonathan Davis

Writing Prompt: Using the Hollywood Formula, come up with a protagonist, an antagonist, and a relationship character.

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Lou got the Hollywood Formula from Dan Decker.

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By Writing Excuses | October 9, 2011 - 6:53 pm - Posted in Business, Career, Plot, Submitting

Pitching your work… authors often have difficulty with it. Even authors who have no trouble spinning a fantastic story may find themselves at a loss telling people ABOUT that story in a way that makes it compelling.

We cover three kinds of pitches — the one-liner or “elevator pitch,” the three- or four-paragraph explanation, and the in-depth synopsis. We also talk about the sorts of situations in which you’re going to need these.

Few skills are as important to new authors, and few weaknesses can be as career-limiting.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin, narrated by Don Leslie

Writing Prompt: Take three of your favorite books and write one of each kind of pitch for each of those books. Now convince a friend of yours to read one of those books using one of those pitches.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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By Writing Excuses | October 16, 2011 - 6:11 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Plot, Scenes, Structure

Lou Anders joins Dan, Howard, and Mary for a discussion of endings. We begin by talking about how important it is to “stick your landing” at the end of the book, and then recap the Hollywood Formula to point out how endings work there. We get examples from Mary’s upcoming novel Glamour in Glass, Dan’s upcoming novel Partials, Howard’s work-in-progress short story, and Lou Anders’ award-worthy, dot-matrix printer.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge, narrated by Jay Snyder

Writing Prompt: Using the first fifteen minutes of your least favorite recent movie as a starting point, write a story with a powerful ending.

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By Writing Excuses | November 20, 2011 - 6:44 pm - Posted in Characters, Plot

Let’s face it. The characters in your book will do some dumb things. We’re here to help you make sure they do those dumb things for the right reasons.

Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of dumb, and how you as an author can write dumb smart. Or smartly write dumb. Something like that.

 

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

Writing Prompt: Create a solid romance in which the characters cannot be together because of good, intelligent, character-driven reasons.

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By Writing Excuses | November 27, 2011 - 6:42 pm - Posted in Mystery, Plot, POV, Structure

Let’s talk mystery! Specifically, how do you plot a good mystery? We’re not focusing on the mystery genre but many of these principles will apply there. For fantasy and science-fiction work this usually means creating plots or sub-plots in which the main experience for the reader is one of discovery or revelation, rather than anticipation.

Tools we discuss include the presentation of clues, unreliable character (and narrator) viewpoints, and how to offer the reader multiple plausible explanations prior to the big reveal. Howard talks about the plotting of the next Schlock Mercenary book, Random Access Memorabilia, and Dan tells us a little about his next book, Partials. Both titles have a mystery and a reveal, while neither is a whodunit.

Special Audible Sponsor: Neil Gaiman has teamed up with Audible and the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), personally selecting several of his favorite books and producing them with some of his favorite narrators. Check out “Neil Gaiman Presents” at Audible for a list of titles and the reasons why Neil selected these books.

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

Writing Prompt: Write your way backwards into a puzzle-box mystery. The answer is that someone’s soul is in the box — now reverse-engineer the plot so that the presence of a soul in the box is surprising yet inevitable.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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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: 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: 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 | 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 | March 11, 2012 - 6:43 pm - Posted in Business, Career, Editing, Genre, Plot, Q&A, Season 7, World Building

It’s again time for us to do a Q&A by any other name!

  • Is it better to include romance, horror, SF, or other genre elements to flesh out a story, or should the story stand alone?
  • Any tips for developing an idea without getting caught in Worldbuilder’s Disease?
  • Any NaNo WriMo tips? (yes.)
  • What did you to do build an audience before you got published and famous and stuff?
  • How do you create sub-plots without overshadowing the main plot?
  • What are the most important things you learned as writers during 2011?
  • How do you stay motivated (especially during editing) when it seems like everything you wrote is crap?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Note that there are lots of available recordings. We recommend something unabridged, like the version linked here.

Writing Prompt: Listener Bill Housely provided this one—a lone woman who runs an orbital refueling post makes first contact when some aliens arrive in desperate need of fuel.

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By Writing Excuses | March 25, 2012 - 5:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Plot, Sci-fi, Season 7, Setting, Structure

It’s a “Howard is clueless” episode! One of us, we won’t name any names, didn’t take enough English classes to know the basic conflict archetypes — Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Nature. In this episode we focus on that third one.

One example of Man vs. Nature is Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. Another is Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In both of these cases, while Man vs  Nature is the main plot, Man vs. Man sub-plots keep the story moving.

We talk about the strengths of this type of story, some of the pitfalls to avoid, lots of examples of the archetype, and then we focus on what you can do to tell this sort of story well.

New Word of the Week: “Stereotropical” – a mashup of “stereotypical” and “trope.” Use it when your meaning can’t possibly be confused with “tropical islands in stereo.”

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey, narrated by Dick Hill

Writing Prompt: "Jack Black stranded alone on an alien planet." Your challenge? Make us like the main character and want him to live...

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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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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 | 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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