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Writing Excuses 10.33: Combat, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan joins us again, this time for a discussion about writing combat. She’s studied fencing, combat choreography, and is *this close* to having a black belt in shotokan karate, bringing a valuable perspective to the discussion. Also, she’s written an ebook called Writing Fight Scenes, so she knows how to talk about this stuff.

We discuss some of our favorite fight scenes in movies and in books, why they work well, and how we can go about creating those sorts of things ourselves.

That Scene We Couldn’t Stop Gushing About: Here’s a no-Netflix-membership-required version of the Daredevil fight scene. It’s a teaser from Netflix, but it’s unabridged. For context, Daredevil is looking for a kidnapped child, and has tracked the boy’s captors to this hallway.



Look at the purpose of the fight you’re about to write. Make a list of everybody who is in the fight, and what each of them wants to get out of the fight. Include what do you, the author, want to accomplish. Then write the scene.

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan, narrated by Kate Reading

Writing Excuses Retreat Scholarship Announcement, Part 1!

The time has come! For…half of you. We had hoped to announce both of our Retreat scholarships yesterday, but the Carl Brandon Society is still working hard, choosing among the many worthy applications, and so that half of the announcement will be delayed. If you applied for the Carl Brandon scholarship, that winner will be announced on June 5. We thank you for your patience.

But if you applied for the Writing Excuses scholarship, we’re announcing that RIGHT NOW!

*drum roll*

We are delighted to report that Suzanne Gale will be joining us on the Writing Excuses cruise this September! Our decision was unanimous but difficult, because so many of the applications were so strong. We’re delighted and honored that so many of our listeners are such great writers. To all of our applicants: good job! You’re awesome!

And to all of you, scholarship applicants or not: start saving your pennies for next year, because we’re already working on another fantastic retreat. It’s going to be awesome.

And of course, enrollment for this year’s retreat is still open…

Writing Excuses 10.12: Story structure Q&A, with Special Guest Wesley Chu

Wes Chu joins us again for a Q&A about this month’s topic: story structure! Here are the questions:

  • Do you make a conscious decision about how to structure your story before you begin writing?
  • Is it necessary to use multiple structures (three-act, Hollywood formula, etc) in order to ensure that your story works?
  • What tools do you use to view your story’s structure?
  • What do you think about cliffhangers?
  • How do you come up with plot twists for your stories? (Answer: A blast from the past with Michael Stackpole! Season 1, Episode 19!)
  • What structures should I use to add variety to my writing?
  • Is there a specific amount of time you should spend on your introduction before getting to the inciting incident?
  • What do you do when you’re halfway through with a story before you realize the structure is wrong?



Make a list of all the awesome things you want your story to accomplish. Then put them in the order in which you want them to happen.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin

Writing Excuses 10.1: Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Season 10 begins!

We wanted to do something different this year. Something special. As we brainstormed we kept returning to something a listener said years ago: “Writing Excuses is like a master class in writing genre fiction.”

That’s a generous remark, as anyone who’s taken an actual master class can attest, but it inspired us to ask ourselves what Writing Excuses would look sound like if it were formatted like an actual master class.

The answer? It would sound like Season 10 is going to sound. This year we’re going to go to school! Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits. We’ll still have some “wildcard” episodes with guests, but for at least three weeks out of each month we’re going to stay on topic. If you’re new to the podcast, this is where to start! If you’re an old hand, don’t worry — this isn’t a return to the 101-level stuff.

In January we’ll cover the very beginning — coming up with cool ideas, and wrapping them up into something that we can turn into a story. And for this first episode we’ll answer the dreaded “where do you get your ideas” question quite seriously. We’re not going to tell you about the Idea Factory in Schenectady (Harlan Ellison’s stock answer,) nor are we going to eye-roll. Nope. We’re going to tell you how we get our brains to think stuff up, and then we’re going to give you homework in the writing prompt.

We’ve talked about ideas before, of course, so here are some links:



Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
  2. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

This exercise might not generate the very best ideas you’ve ever had, but it will definitely flex your idea muscles in new ways.

Lock In, by John Scalzi, narrated by Amber Benson OR Wil Wheaton (there are two versions of this audiobook.)

Writing Excuses 9.3: Character Perception vs. Narrative Perception with Nancy Fulda

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.



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

Movement, by Nancy Fulda, narrated by Marguerite Kenner

Writing Excuses 8.50: Q&A with Mercedes Lackey

Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes the stars align and serendipity is made manifest. And sometimes Mercedes Lackey happens to be hanging around at the same convention you’re recording podcasts at, and sits herself down to answer questions with you. Or rather with us.

Here are the questions. You’ll need to listen to the podcast for the answers:

  • (For Mercedes) How do you stay relevant through the numerous changes in the industry?
  • How do you go about creating a title for a project?
  • Is blending 1st-person and 3rd-person viewpoints cheating?
  • (For Howard) Should marketing research be done before launching an online story?
  • When, where, and how do you end chapters?
  • How can you tell if you’re overusing narrative language?
  • How should a young writer balance their writing time against other activities?
  • What are the parts of being an author that you hate (specifically the non-writing parts)?
  • (For Mercedes) What advice do you have for finding alpha & beta readers?
  • Is it distracting to write out a character’s accent?



Eavesdrop on a conversation at the coffee shop, then go home and write the end of that conversation.

Bastion: Collegium Chronicles Book 5, by Mercedes Lackey, narrated by Nick Podehl.