By Writing Excuses | September 19, 2010 - 3:37 pm - Posted in Characters, POV, Style

Bree Despain joins us for a discussion of writing the first-person viewpoint. We talk about “method writing” and get briefly creeped out by Dan. We discuss some key aspects of this particular POV, including the unreliable narrator, the over-the-shoulder vs. the memoir perspective, and the presence or absence of a framing story.

We cover a few pitfalls, including the clichéd “mirror scene,” and then offer advice to new writers who are looking for ways to get first person right the first time.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Beastly, by Alex Finn

Writing Prompt: The main character has a secret. Write from that character’s point of view, but keep the secret from the reader.

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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 The first is “your second unpublished novel.”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We start with that second unpublished novel.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 | December 19, 2010 - 7:05 pm - Posted in Characters, Editing, POV

Late last season we took a look at Brandon’s first novel and did some line-editing and critiquing. It was so much fun we decided that Dan needed to take a turn in the dunking booth.

He totally gets wet.

In the course of dunking Dan we cover beginnings, descriptions, character development, pacing, and viewpoint as we tear into the first couple of pages of this novel. Brandon and Howard argue a bit over stylistic approaches, and of course Dan doesn’t get a say in things because he drowned. (Note: Dan does get a say in things, but mostly because he is not defending his old work at all.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs

Writing Prompt: Take an idiomatic expression and make it literal (not as a pun.) For instance, “the crack of dawn” as an actual crack in the sky through which dawn’s light shines.

Word That Is Not A Word But Totally Should Be: Discontiguity: [dis-kon-ti-gyoo-i-tee] – noun. A break in a series of things in continuous connection. A severance of contact.

Word That Isn’t In The Book, But Brandon Totally Put It There: Scrumptiously.

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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.

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By Writing Excuses | March 18, 2012 - 5:00 pm - Posted in POV, Season 7, Style

Let’s talk omniscience, because we’re TOTALLY that smart. Specifically, we’re talking about the omniscient viewpoints. This is the POV from which Tolkien wrote, but we see it a lot less often these days. Has it fallen out of fashion, or does it just not work well?

Generally speaking, the omniscient viewpoint is where the narrator can see all of the action, all of the character thoughts, and is not limited to which character we’re following at any given time. We break this down a little, talking about the different types or styles of omniscient POV, discussing the strengths of each, and offering examples from Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Tom Clancy, Terry Pratchett, David Eddings, James P. Hogan, Frank Herbert and others (including some of our own stuff.)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Acacia, by David Anthony Durham, narrated by  Dick Hill

Writing Prompt: 1) Stick an omniscient narrator scene in between two 3rd-person limited scenes. 2) Have two characters carry on a dialog which is out of sync with what each of them are thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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By Writing Excuses | August 18, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Live Audience, POV, Season 8, Setting

How do you help your readers relate to the non-human characters in your fiction?

The first question to answer is why you’re putting non-human characters in the piece to begin with. What are your goals for that race, culture, or whatever? Once you know that, you can begin addressing the challenge of helping the reader relate.

We talk about our strategies, and we cover examples from Iain Banks’ Look to Windward, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and of course from our own work, including Kiss Me Twice, I Am Not a Serial Killer, and The Body Politic.

Immediately Discarded Negative Example, Because the Rathole is Just Too Deep: The 1977 Star Wars Christmas Special

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Thief of Time: Discworld, Book 26, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

Writing Prompt: Depict a conversation between members of a non-human species who do something besides talk.

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By Writing Excuses | September 8, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, POV, Season 8

After a quick, two-and-a-half-minute announcement about Writing Excuses winning the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Related Work, we get on with the topic at hand…

How do you go about transitioning characters in relative prominence during the course of a series? This might include fading a main character into the background, or drawing a side character into focus as the protagonist.

Howard talks about doing this in Schlock Mercenary, and how readers have reacted. Dan discusses doing this in the John Cleaver books, and what was required to make that work. Brandon tells us about Spook in the Mistborn trilogy, and why it was critical to the story for him to come to prominence. Mary explains that this shift is something that happens anytime there’s a POV shift.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Writing Prompt: Take a minor character from a story you've already completed, and tell their story.

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By Writing Excuses | November 10, 2013 - 6:13 pm - Posted in Conventions, Gender, Guest, Live Audience, POV, Q&A, Season 8

Wesley Chu again joins Brandon, Mary, Howard, and a live audience at GenCon Indy, this time for a Q&A. The audience handed us the following questions:

  • How do you write 1st-person POV from a gender other than your own?
  • Do you have a set schedule for writing time?
  • How do you boost your word count without padding, AND without adding characters?
  • How can prose be used to convey emotion without stating character feelings outright?

Those are the questions. Listen to the episode for the answers!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Chimes at Midnight, by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Prompt: Revoke your right to use "thought" verbs, then communicate thoughts, knowledge, and awareness in your POV character. The original challenge for this prompt came from this blog post by Chuck Palahniuk.

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Nancy Fulda, who was a guest on the cast clear back in Season 2, joins us to talk about using the narrative to call out or offset character perceptions. Sometimes the POV character “knows” a thing which is not just incorrect, it is something the reader will recognize as incorrect, and if this isn’t written correctly the reader may get knocked out of the story by the concern that the author might have his or her information wrong.

For instance, one character might refer to a small-arm magazine as a “clip,” while other characters in the story, those more experienced with firearms, know that the word is “magazine.”

Mary talks about the historical fantasy novel she’s writing, set in Regency-era Antigua, and which steps squarely into issues of race. Nancy talks to us a bit about language drift, and about how our understanding about lots of things will change. Brandon then raises the question of using “author’s notes.”

Speaking Of Things The Characters Got Wrong: One of those episodes Nancy was in back in 2009? Yeah, we all got it wrong.

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Movement, by Nancy Fulda, narrated by Marguerite Kenner

Writing Prompt: Take something that you believe to be false, and write a character with the opposite belief.

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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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