You didn’t think we’d just keep going with the same old stuff forever, did you? Well, actually we are, but now we’re calling it Season 2. This season begins with a series of episodes recorded at Mountain Con in Layton, UT, each of them rife with wisdom and wonder.

This week Writing Excuses is brought to you by the Writing Excuses Season One Collection on CD.

By Writing Excuses | February 8, 2009 - 10:51 pm - Posted in Government, Setting, Theme, World Building

Let’s get back to world-building, and dig into a tough one: government. In this case we’re talking about government as part of the backdrop, rather than political intrigue as part of the plot. Are you going to create a monarchy, a democracy, or perhaps some crazy, experimental sort of rigidly constitutional representative republic? City-states? Confederations? Empires? What’s it going to be, and (more importantly) why?

Oh, and how do you do it right?

Writing Prompt:  Create a government by starting with “Colon Cleansers,” and then taking two steps back to create something unique.

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 | June 1, 2009 - 8:33 am - Posted in Setting, World Building, Writing Prompt

Welcome to Season 3 of Writing Excuses! With eighteen hours and fourteen months of podcasting history behind us, it seems appropriate for us to talk about history, and how to write it.

We talk about the iceberg principle — 90% of the history stuff you write never gets seen by the reader, it’s just there to support the 10% that they do see, the “tip of the iceberg” — and why for some writers it’s just not the right ratio. We also discuss Worldbuilder’s Disease — none of the writing you’re doing is prose for the novel — and how to avoid it while still knuckling down and doing the work.

And then (after a shiny commercial break) we knuckle down and talk about writing history, making it interesting, finding conflict, and avoiding oversimplified causality (“monocausationalism.”)

Writing Prompt: Write an encyclopedia article about a war that has 5 distinct causes. Identify and justify each of them.

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 | 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!

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Your writing prompt: Bugs are now magical. Ohcrap.

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By Writing Excuses | March 28, 2010 - 7:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Genre, Sci-fi, Setting, Structure, World Building

“Dude, that’s totally epic.”

“Epic fail! Epic fail!”

These phrases have only passing relation to epic storytelling, and to epic fantasy. Brandon and Howard write epics, and we’re going to talk about how we do it. And Dan’s going to help, because even if his launching-this-week I Am Not a Serial Killer novel is not an epic, Dan knows his stuff.

(Also, epic win for Dan! His book launches this week!)

We talk about some of our favorite epic fantasy and epic science fiction series, and then discuss elements like scope, plotlines, and characters. We also address some of the common pitfalls new writers fall into when trying to write their first epic.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Uplift Trilogy: Brightness Reef, Infinity’s Shore, and Heaven’s Reach by David Brin

Writing Prompt: Google “Epic Win” (or just visit “Epic Win FTW“), take one of the images on the site, and then craft an epic story around that image.

Joke Not Told By Howard In The Podcast: If a new writer attempts to create an epic and falls flat on his or her face in the attempt, it is, in fact, Epic Fail.

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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.”

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By Writing Excuses | May 30, 2010 - 9:26 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Genre, Government, Live, magic, Setting, World Building

Coming to you “live” from CONduit, Writing Excuses is pleased to welcome fantasy superstar L.E. Modesitt (plus a slightly different Howard, by which we mean that Howard was out of town and replaced by Dan’s brother Rob).

Our topic for this episode is “practicality,” which is another way of saying “fantasy and science fiction may be unrealistic, but they should still be plausible within your definition of reality.” In other words, if you have an army of 1000 armored knights, you’d better have an economy and political system capable of producing and supporting them.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Imager by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., about a mage so powerful anything he thinks can become reality.

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By Writing Excuses | August 1, 2010 - 6:14 pm - Posted in Sci-fi, Setting, World Building

Let’s build THE FUTURE! [cue dramatic music]

The Writing Excuses crew explores another angle on the massively multifaceted gem of a topic known as “worldbuilding.” We’ve touched on governments, religions, and magic systems in the past. This time we’re looking at a more exclusively science-fictional aspect of worldbuilding: extrapolating a future setting from what we know about the present.

We start with Howard explaining why and how he went about it all wrong, and then managed to salvage it in spite of that. We move on to strategies for doing this sort of future prediction, and how to employ them in concert to worldbuild underneath your next novel. Strategies include “worst-case scenario,” “best-case scenario,” “the human factor,” and “what’s cool?”

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Empire of the East, by Fred Saberhagen

Writing Prompt: “were-cuttlefish,” courtesy of Dan Wells.

Courtesy of Howard Tayler: those popping noises made by (we assume) the were-cuttlefish.

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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 | February 6, 2011 - 9:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Humor, Sci-fi, Setting, World Building

Mary Robinette Kowal and Dave Wolverton again join Dan and Howard, and this time we’re talking about holidays in fantasy and science-fiction. This ‘cast was recorded at Superstars Writing Seminars, and  Moses Siregar III of Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing captured us on video as we recorded.

What sorts of things result in holidays? Historically we see them at the solstices and the equinoxes, planting and harvest, and commemorations of important events. We talk about all of these, and how to work them into your own writing without sounding like you’re just filing the serial numbers off of Christmas, Halloween, and Mardi Gras.

So of course we also talk about how to do this wrong.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: METAtropolis: Cascadia, by Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, Ken Scholes, Karl Schroeder, and Tobias Buckell, and narrated by Rene Auberjonois, Kate Mulgrew, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and Jay Lake.

Writing Prompt: Make up a holiday that isn’t based on anything you’ve seen.

Exclamation Howard Thought He’d Never Use: Bone Puppet Day!

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By Writing Excuses | February 20, 2011 - 6:46 pm - Posted in Career, Guest, Setting

Kevin J. Anderson joins us for a discussion of writing in other people’s universes. After the opening shots (and an obligatory Jar-Jar joke), we tackle the question “how do you get to write a Star Wars book?”

Our discussion ranges from the general to the practical, and presses the Fanfic hotbutton more than once. We discuss Kevin’s career with numerous licensed properties, and Brandon’s experience with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Hidden Empire: The Saga of the Seven Suns, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by George Guidall

Writing Prompt: A group of aliens come to a writing conference to learn to write stories that humans will want to read.

That Noise In The Background: The hotel staff was vacuuming the room behind us.

Best Metaphor Ever, Courtesy of Kevin J. Anderson: As authors in other creators’ universes we are Lando Calrissian borrowing the Millenium Falcon and promising to return it to Han Solo without a scratch.

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By Writing Excuses | February 27, 2011 - 10:11 pm - Posted in Characters, Guest, Horror, Humor, Setting, Suspense

Sherrilyn Kenyon, a multiple New York Times bestselling author of all kinds of novels, helps us tackle the tricky work of making the reader fear for the characters in the book.

The first step? Make the reader sympathize with the characters. Then make the reader love them. And then? Then you put them through the wringer while your readers bite their nails bloody in horror.

Here in the blurb we make it sound easy and formulaic. Listen to the ‘cast for pointers on the difficult bits.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Night Pleasures: The Dark Hunters, Book 1, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

Writing Prompt: Take a Lovecraftian beastie and shove him into The Shire.

Legal Note: The Lovecraftian beastie may lie in the public domain, but The Shire most certainly does not. Additional points for making your Shire and your Hobbits C&D-proof with clever name changes and a shave of their feet.

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By Writing Excuses | April 24, 2011 - 3:42 pm - Posted in Characters, Genre, Setting, World Building

Let’s talk about bibles. Specifically, story bibles. What are they, why do we use them, why might we NOT use them, and what tools are working for us?

Howard again plugs wikidpad, which he converted Brandon to, and which Dan Wells just couldn’t bring himself to love. Dan uses several different Open Office files. The important thing, though, is that when we need to store information about the book in someplace besides the book itself, we write it down in our story bibles.

Dan talks about his new project, how important the story bible was for that, and what sorts of things absolutely have to go in there. Howard talks about the sorts of Schlock-tech that often end up

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Freakonomics, by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner, narrated by Stephen J. Dubner.

Writing Prompt: Someone is a were-animal. Pick an animal that hasn’t been done. Were-banana-slug, perhaps?

9:40 through 10:10: Yes, we went kind of quiet there. Somebody kicked a cable, maybe?

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Okay, let’s have some fun. Not that we weren’t having fun for the previous 150+ episodes, mind you. But this is extra-fun.

Brandon, Dan, and Howard take the urban fantasy writing prompt about big-box stores and decide to brainstorm a story out of it. When we begin this ‘cast all we have is the prompt.

Then we brainstorm, plowing through setting, character, conflict, and story.

By the end of the ‘cast we’re ready to make a pitch to an editor and sell the book.

Okay, maybe not. But the book is totally ready for us to sit down and write. Or, better yet, for YOU to sit down and write.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn, narrated by Marguerite Gavin

Writing Prompt: Take what we’ve done in this ‘cast and try to come up with a plot and an ending. Alternatively, take the list of competition films from the most recent Sundance Film Festival and pick six that are somehow part of a Fey plot.

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By Writing Excuses | May 8, 2011 - 7:37 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Setting, World Building

Saladin Ahmed, Nebula- and Campbell-award nominee joins Brandon and Howard at Penguicon 9.0 in Troy, Michigan for a discussion of setting — specifically, setting an epic fantasy in something besides the traditional, Western European middle ages.

We talk about the importance of familiarity, and how we balance that against more exotic elements. Saladin offers us some tools and tricks for doing this. One of these is the “Daily Life In” series of books, research tools for authors wanting to leverage ancient Rome, Egypt, or other places in the creation of their settings. Yes, you might want to go out and buy a book or two after we’re done.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Inheritance Trilogy, Book 1, by N. K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Writing Prompt: Describe a food that is familiar to you from the point of view of a character who has never encountered it, nor anything like it.

Did You Hear Something Different? This episode marks the debut of our new digital mixer! We’re new to it, but so far it’s wonderful. Also, this is the third or fourth episode where Mary Robinette Kowal has voiced the sponsorship plug. Expect to hear a LOT more from her in Season Six…

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By Writing Excuses | July 10, 2011 - 5:56 pm - Posted in Genre, Ideas, Sci-fi, Setting, World Building

Cyberpunk: What is it? Why is it? We’ve mentioned it before, but we’ve never attempted to tackle it.

We begin with an attempt to define cyberpunk (the literary genre), which is typically near-future SF, anti-establishment, early dystopian fiction featuring connectivity, body modification, and culture shifts. We argue a bit over the finer points, which fits the topic perfectly.

We move on to discuss how you might set about writing cyberpunk, which is, as Dan points out, the SF genre we’re catching up to. We almost live in that world already. You’re going to need to do some research, reading up on the genre and looking closely at where current technology is taking us.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson, narrated by Jennifer Wiltsie.

Writing Prompt: A cyberpunk setting in which tattoos are the equivalent of implanted tech… and somebody has hacked your tattoo.

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By Writing Excuses | July 17, 2011 - 5:07 pm - Posted in Collaboration, Demonstration, Genre, Ideas, Setting

Here’s a brainstorming episode in which Brandon throws random concepts from a textbook of his on gods and goddesses, and we attempt to brainstorm a cyberpunk story from these elements.

The elements thrown at us include clay, Sanskrit, fire god, and Buddhism.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch professionals wrestle with story genesis, this is the episode for you.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: A Scanner Darkly, by Phillip K. Dick, narrated by Paul Giamatti.

Writing Prompt: Come up with a cyberpunk world using the seed “penguins.”

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By Writing Excuses | August 7, 2011 - 5:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Genre, Ideas, Setting

Orson Scott Card’s M.I.C.E. quotient is a concept from his books Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction. M.I.C.E. stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event, and can serve as a way to identify what kind of story you’re telling, and which elements you might need to spend more time fleshing out.

Mary walks us through each of the M.I.C.E. elements, and then we discuss ways in which writers can apply the quotient for improving their writing.

Then we try to take the Billy Goats Gruff tale and spin it as four different stories, one each for the M.I.C.E. elements, but that proves to be a pretty ambitious undertaking for us. Oh, the stumbling.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.

Writing Prompt: Apply the M.I.C.E. quotient to Red Riding Hood, and write at least one page of story per element. Wow, this sounds a lot like homework.

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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.

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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 | September 4, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Guest, Setting

Patrick Rothfuss joins Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard at WorldCon 69, where we recorded before a live, enthusiastic audience.

The topic? Suspension of disbelief, specifically, how to get your readers to do this. Patrick leads us off with verisimilitude, and how the reader will accept the fantastic if you’re presenting the mundane in a believable way. We talk about laying groundwork, about Chekov’s gun, the promises we have to make to our readers, and the dramatic tool bathos.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl.

Writing Prompt: Make the reader believe one impossible thing. If you can’t think of something on your own, start with teleportation.

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By Writing Excuses | December 4, 2011 - 4:54 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Fantasy, Setting, World Building, Writing Prompt

It’s the Writing Excuses Fantasy Setting Yard Sale!

In this experimental (at least for us) ‘cast, Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard build a couple of fantasy settings for you, and they’re free. Seriously. TAKE THEM.

We start our world-building with an unusual way for someone to obtain magical powers. We ended up with space-dust. We then head into what these powers do, and again we look for something unusual. We picked mutation. Then we start applying limitations: astrological, alchemical, and geological.

Our second pass (we’re giving away more than one of these!) began with cultural elements. We toy with how political power is granted, and end up with some neat linguistic bits, puerile humor, dance steps, ambidexterity, and a callback to the earlier puerility.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Writing Prompt: This whole episode is one big writing prompt, and you need one because NaNoWriMo is over, but that’s no excuse to not write. You’re out of excuses, as we’ve told you on more than one occasion. Write!

Puerility: “Fart joke.”

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By Writing Excuses | February 12, 2012 - 8:15 pm - Posted in Alternate History, Fantasy, Genre, Season 7, Setting

We begin with a definition of Historical Fantasy that allows us narrow the topic and differentiate it from Alternate History. When we say historical fantasy we mean “adding magic to a historical period we want to write in.” We offer some examples of this, talk about why it’s popular right now, and then talk about how you as a writer can do this well.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: His Majesty's Dragon: Temeraire, Book 1, by Naomi Novik, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: Identify a historical period that you like, and write a story in that setting. Don't bother researching anything until you're done.

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By Writing Excuses | February 19, 2012 - 5:48 pm - Posted in Alternate History, Guest, Season 7, Setting

Mary and Dan discuss using a city as a character with Sarah Pinborough, for whom London is an important setting and one of her favorite places. We talk about the importance of being accurate, and how a city isn’t just the buildings and the history, it’s also the attitudes of the people who live there. Sarah gives us lots (and lots and lots) of insight into how she wrote London into her books, what she did right, and what (per her admission) she got wrong.

Dan and Mary also give us some peeks into what they’ve done with Clayton (completely fictional) and Nashville (adjusted via authorial arson) in their own books.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Terror, by Dan Simmons, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: Take a city to which you have been, and set a chase scene there.

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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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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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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 | August 5, 2012 - 8:02 pm - Posted in Research, Sci-fi, Season 7, Setting, World Building

Eric James Stone, Nebula winner and “graduate” of NASA’s Launchpad workshop, joins us to talk about astronomy in our world-building.

We talk about tides, habitable zones, planetary orbits and axial tilts, stellar life-cycles, and other fun factors for authors to take into account. But obviously we can’t teach you everything you need to know about astronomy in 15 minutes, so we wrap with some handy resources for you to begin your continuing education:

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss, narrated by Christopher Slade

Writing Prompt: Your colonists are going to a world whose axial tilt is different from Earth's. How are the seasons different?

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By Writing Excuses | December 12, 2012 - 10:06 am - Posted in Demonstration, Plot, Season 7, Setting, World Building

We try. We really do. But sometimes, in our efforts to make sure we’ve got a large enough queue of episodes to keep you edutained and entercated, we get things out of order. Badly.

Our last two episodes (49 and 50) made reference to this one, which was recorded before they were, and many of you were confused. We were even confused! But enough about the behind-the-scenes recording process. On with the episode!

Mary pitches us three story sketches, and we pick one to brainstorm. This, by the way, is also how Mary works with her agent. After the pitches, we select the one that doesn’t have much of a story yet.

And then it’s a brainstorming session. If you’ve ever wondered where we (or anybody else) gets their ideas, and more importantly, how they refine them, this is a must-listen.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Writing Prompt: In a setting in which magnetic fields are dramatically different between locations, give us a story about traveling between those locations.

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By Writing Excuses | December 26, 2012 - 1:28 pm - Posted in Alternate History, Season 7, Setting, World Building

Hey, guess what 2012 has fifty-three of? Mondays! So you’re getting a fifty-third episode of “Writing Excuses” this season. (You’re also going to be getting a fifty-fourth, because we stuck an extra in there a few weeks back.)

Hopefully this excuses (no pun intended) the fact that this episode is a full three days late. Merry Christmas!

Let’s talk about secret histories. A secret history is a subset of alternate history, in which historical events are given new explanations, typically fantastical ones, but in which the reader is invited to believe that this is the world we all currently live in.

We mention Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Tim Powers’ Last Call, and Jo Walton’s Among Others, and why secret history has the appeal it does, especially when it’s done well. And because you want to know how to do it well, we spend some time on that, as well as discussing some of the ethics of creating secret histories in the first place.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: A Short Stay in Hell, by Stephen L. Peck, narrated by Sergei Burbank

Writing Prompt: Take a popular piece of entertainment, grab a side-character, and give us their secret story.

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By Writing Excuses | January 13, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Education, Fantasy, Ideas, Outlining, Plot, Prose, Season 8, Setting, Structure

Beowulf didn’t kill Grendel on a day trip, Luke didn’t overthrow Emperor Palpatine in just one season, and here at Writing Excuses, we didn’t get around to properly discussing the Hero’s Journey until we were well into the second decade of this century.

Sorry about that.

The Campbellian Monomyth, as defined in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, is a system of comparative mythology that, for better or for worse, gets used a lot by writers. We talk about some of our favorite examples, and immediately begin arguing over terms. Hopefully this is delightful to you, and educational for everyone. Especially since the monomyth is not a checklist, and it should not be taken that way.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: At the time we recorded this, Hero With a Thousand Faces was available on Audible. It's not anymore. So... go find something else educational?

Writing Prompt: Take Goldilocks and the Three Bears, apply the Campbellian Monomyth, and give us a short story.

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By Writing Excuses | February 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 | March 24, 2013 - 3:57 pm - Posted in Howard, Plot, Project in Depth, Sci-fi, Season 8, Setting

Brandon, Dan, and Mary interview Howard about how he assembled “Deus ex Nauseum,” the bonus story that appears at the end of Schlock Mercenary: Emperor Pius Dei.

Howard begins with the story’s genesis, which was sort of a science-fiction Sherlock Holmes story, but which wasn’t working very well. He explains why it wasn’t working well, and the point at which he decided to change it completely.

Then the questions begin. We have a fascinating discussion about deus ex machina as a literary device, and how this story plays to that type, and plays against that type.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams with stories by Robert J. Sawyer, Christopher Roden, Michael Moorcock, Anne Perry, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Burgess, and Laurie R. King, narrated by Simon Vance and Anne Flosnik.

Writing Prompt: Take one story and discard every other page. Use that as framing material for a second story.

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The number one request we got when we asked you what you’d like us to talk about? Short story writing. Mary is our resident expert, and if she weren’t already a member of the cast, she’d our go-to expert for an interview. Convenient!

We begin by addressing the popular notion that writing short stories is a good way to practice for writing novels, and selling short stories is a way to break in and sell novels. We then return to the M.I.C.E. quotient (first addressed by us in 6.10) and discuss how the quotient (or model, or formula) helps you understand what to cut from the telling of a story to make it a short story.

Mary then walks us through her process for turning an idea into a story concept, and then distilling that concept into a short story. She also invites us to explore her 950-word short, “Evil Robot Monkey,” free of charge!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Language of Moths, by Christopher Barzak, narrated by Paul Michael Garcia

Writing Prompt: Being "bi-textual" is a controversial lifestyle choice...

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By Writing Excuses | June 30, 2013 - 5:55 pm - Posted in Genre, Sci-fi, Season 8, Setting

This week’s episode covers the perjoratively-named sub-genre, space opera. These are adventure stories in which the setting is futuristic, but in which the science is secondary. The lines are blurry, as they are with any definition of genre, but we’re pretty sure that Howard writes space opera.

A possible definition? Space Opera is when the author uses science to justify the cool stuff he or she has come up with.

We talk about the decisions that go into writing a space opera, how Howard has gone about it, and what you might focus on in order to write a compelling, adventurous romp.

Pithy Howardism: “If I pee far, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold, narrated by Grover Gardner

Writing Prompt: Posit a faster-than-light drive that nobody else has thought of. Or at least that you haven't heard of.

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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 | February 23, 2014 - 10:10 pm - Posted in Sci-fi, Season 9, Setting

Eric James Stone and the Wilhelm Scream join us for a talk about “handwavium,” that stuff that you use instead of through-and-through hard science. It’s that part where you wave your hand and say “don’t pay too much attention to this bit.”

When does it fail, though? When is it good enough? Like so many other things, this hinges upon whether or not the reader is knocked out of the story by implausibility. We talk about post-trans-uranics, reversing the polarity, inertial dampeners, and internal consistency. We also talk about how we, as writers, make our decisions regarding handwavium.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Incrementalists, by Stephen Brust and Skyler White, narrated by Ray Porter and Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Prompt: Write some technobabble that explains how turtles have hyperspace.

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