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.

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 | August 8, 2009 - 11:47 pm - Posted in Editing, Prose

Let’s talk “trimming.” Why do it? Well… because your manuscript is longer than it needs to be. Yes, we’re talking to you. AND you. And you, too. None of you are exempt! (Well… maybe YOU are, but you can’t be allowed to believe it.)

So… what do you trim? We’ve covered “Killing Your Darlings” way back in Season One Episode Three, so while those are certainly on the list of things to cut, we’re going to focus on tightening your prose and reducing word-count without changing the story. So that’s what we cover in a brisk, 15-minute ‘cast whose synopsis is at least fifty words longer than it needs to be. Maybe fifty-two.

By Writing Excuses | January 11, 2010 - 10:07 am - Posted in Characters, Humor, Prose

Welcome to Writing Excuses Season 4, featuring new, shorter episode titles! Also, if you don’t count the bonus episodes or the Parsec Award Acceptance Speech, this is our 100th Episode!

Brandon kicks this off by asking “What does Howard do that’s funny?” and then by categorizing the sorts of things he finds Howard doing. Obviously this puts no pressure whatsoever on Howard to be funny during the podcast. Which is good, because he really wasn’t, cold medicine notwithstanding. Again, we manage talk about humor without being funny.

We manage to cover character-based humor, physical humor, and non-sequitur, brushing alongside cognitive humor and exaggeration as we go, but hey… we only had 15 minutes to work with. Oh, and we ran over by 4 minutes and fifty-seven seconds.

Writing Prompt: Write something funny using non-sequiturs and cold medicine.

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Let’s talk about some ways in which your descriptions can do more than just describe. You’re not just trying to tell us what the room is like. You’re also setting the mood, telling us about the POV character, and establishing some of our progress through the story.

Howard (who rarely works in prose) offers some unexpected insight by talking about the way panels are composed in his comic. Mary offers even better insight by pulling the same principles through the domain of puppetry. Dan tells us how some of this is done by filmmakers. But yes, we finally do come back around to prose and how to accomplish these things with words.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Shades of Milk and Honey, written and narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Prompt: Go someplace, use all five of your senses, and for thirty minutes write about the place you’re in. Not the people though. Just the place.

And Because It Needs To Be Google-able: “Mary Robinette Koala” — it might be more than just a pronunciation guide.

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 | January 22, 2012 - 5:00 pm - Posted in Editing, Prose, Season 7

Brevity! Use fewer words!

After the obligatory “we-are-going-to-cut-this-short-after-the-intro” joke, we talk about how we can be appropriately brief, even in the context of writing epic fantasy. Mary offers us some rules of thumb for story brevity in the short fiction she writes, and Howard talks about how he accomplishes the extreme brevity of language required by his comic. Dan points out that the shorter you work, the more important your individual words become.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, narrated by the author

Writing Prompt: Give us a group of people on a long trip in space, with a problem, which they solve. Do it in 150 words.

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By Writing Excuses | January 29, 2012 - 7:00 pm - Posted in Guest, Horror, Prose, Season 7

Dan and Mary were joined by Sam Sykes at World Fantasy, and invited him to talk about sensory writing, which he had recently discussed in a workshop.

The heart of the discussion is which senses (typically beyond sight) to include as we write. Sounds, smells, tactile information, and even tastes are necessary to engage the reader. And while it’s possible to include too much of that, Sam counsels writers to err on the side of excess because it’s always easy to edit things back a notch should you find upon re-reading that you’ve gone too far.

Sam, Mary and Dan offer lots of good advice on the matter — when it’s important and why, how to do it well, and how not to overdo it.

Term of the Week: “Literary diabetes.”

Disclaimer of the Week: No grandparents were harmed in the recording of this podcast, nor were any chihuahuas.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Terrorists in Love: The Real Stories of Islamic Radicals, by Ken Ballen, narrated by Peter Ganim

Writing Prompt: Write the point-of-view of a character whose vision is obscured, and describe how they use their other senses to attempt to determine where they are.

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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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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 | 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 | August 4, 2013 - 3:02 pm - Posted in Dialog, Prose, Scenes, Season 8

The combination of dialogue, blocking, and description, can be considered from a couple of directions. The first is the idea that we’re really talking about making every element do double or triple duty. Dialogue, blocking, and description work together for exposition, answering questions the reader is asking.

The second is the “pyramid of abstraction.” The bottom of the pyramid, the scene setting, is the concrete foundation. The layers atop it can be more and more abstract, like tagless dialog without concrete descriptions, if that original foundation is firm enough.

In this ‘cast we take both approaches, and offer some tips, tricks, and examples so that you can learn to do this well.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Writing Prompt: (Which is Actually Homework) Write description for half an hour. A full half hour. Set a timer! Try to use all five senses. Now write a single paragraph in which we establish a single character in that setting. Finally, write three sentences that convey the character, the description, and the character's emotional state. Want more exercises like this one? Here you go! (courtesy of Mary.)

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By Writing Excuses | December 22, 2013 - 7:59 pm - Posted in Prose, Season 8, Style

Mette Ivie Harrison joins us to discuss creative non-fiction, the genre in which the tools of creative writing are applied to factually accurate narratives. Her latest book, Iron Mom, tells the story of how and why Mette  became a triathlete. We talk about how those tools are applied, and where the line between fiction and non-fiction might be drawn.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Macleod Andrews

Writing Prompt: Try your hand at creative non-fiction. Takes something that is ordinary to you, but which may be unusual or extraordinary for other people, and write about it in a way that evokes wonder.

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By Writing Excuses | March 23, 2014 - 9:30 pm - Posted in Career, Editing, Gender, Guest, Prose, Q&A, Race, Season 9, Style

Aaand we’re microcasting again! A Q&A episode by any other name would sound as neat. Also neat? Eric James Stone joins us again!

  • What writing rule do you break the most?
  • When you review your novel do you print it out and mark it up, or do you edit on the computer?
  • How long do you wait between finishing a novel and starting the editing process?
  • What is the number-one issue that you have to overcome each day in order to put words to paper?
  • How do you feel with the fear of screwing up when you’re writing the other?
  • When giving a book as a gift, how do you decide on a book to give?
  • Any advice for people wanting to write a grand, universal story for their fantasy novel?
  • Is there a place you go to be inspired to write?
  • Do you ever have trouble writing characters out of the story (you know, by killing them)?
  • How do you strike the balance between too little description and too much?

A Note Regarding The Audio: Brandon’s microphone died just before we started, and we didn’t catch it, so if he sounds echoey it’s because we had to get his track from the other three microphones in the room.

 

 

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Between Two Thorns: The Split Worlds Series Book 1, by Emma Newman, narrated by the author

Writing Prompt: The word "sesquipedalian" means 18 inches long, and is usually only used to describe words that are too long. Find a way to work it into a scene so that it fits.

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