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.

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 10, 2011 - 3:27 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

We begin our discussion of Urban Fantasy with a discussion of definitions, which quickly devolves into an argument over what we are actually supposed to be talking about. Moving right along, we explore what sorts of things we find in an Urban Fantasy, and what sorts of rules these stories usually abide by.

Dan tells us how he set about writing the John Cleaver books, which certainly qualify as Urban Fantasy, Howard tackles the burning question of where one might start in the project of building a mythos, and Brandon explains
his own Urban Fantasy projects, including one failure from which we can all learn an important lesson.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Dresden Files Book One: Storm Front, by Jim Butcher, narrated by James Marsters.

Writing Prompt: . Give us an Urban Fantasy in which the point of origin for your crossover is big box store retail spaces which somehow breach the boundary between our world and the magical one.

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 'nother Mike | July 30, 2014 - 10:26 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.31: Critiquing “An Honest Death”

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/07/27/writing-excuses-9-31-critiquing-an-honest-death/

Key Points: What people liked about the story? The main character. “I like stories about people who are competent.” When competent characters run up against something outside their competence, that creates good conflict. The concept was good. The pacing was good. The dialogue, the choice of first-person present tense. What’s not working? Secondary characters are too similar. Be careful about maid-and-butlering, and overdoing the information. Beware of world builder’s syndrome. Watch out for technology assumptions. Sometimes when you think you have painted yourself into a corner, friends can suggest a way out. Beware of over-complicated plans. Make sure you know how the main character is involved in solving the problem.

[Brandon] Okay. This is Brandon from the future, cutting into this episode to say, “Yes, indeed, the Writing Excuses anthology is available. It’s called Shadows Beneath. We have it in a gorgeous hardcover as well as in e-book forms on all of your favorite e-book platforms. If you buy the hardcover, we send you the e-book for free. So if you haven’t read the story we’re doing this week, you’ll want to stop right now, pick up a copy of the anthology, read through that story so that then you can follow along with this critique session and see what professional writers have to say about a story going from first draft to last draft.”

[Mary] This episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by Audible. Visit audiblepodcast.com/excuse to start your free trial membership.

[Mary] Season nine, episode 31.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, critiquing Howard’s story.
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry.
[Mary] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] And the part of Dan will be played by a rowdy group of European soccer hooligans watching American football for the first time.
[Assorted screaming]
[Brandon] And we once again have Eric James Stone joining us. Thank you so much, Eric.
[Eric] Thanks for inviting me.

[Brandon] All right. So. We have done this with the other people in the Writing Excuses crew, where we each wrote a story and have critiqued them. Last but not least is our friend Howard.
[Mary] Mwahahaha.
[Brandon] Who has written a story and you will be able to go and download this as part of the Writing Excuses anthology. You should go do that right now, before you listen to this, because we’re going to spoil. What we want you to do is read the story. We will include in the e-book edition the draft that Mary and I and Eric just read so that you can read the story, listen to our critique, and have in front of you the original draft so you can see what we went through. But it makes us feel much better if you’ve read the story first because seeing it in its glory and beauty…
[Howard] Because one of the things that we are going to talk about is the fact that what Brandon and Mary and Eric have read really isn’t the whole story. I am stuck and need help getting the characters and the plot and all the things to one of the possible endings I have in mind.
[Mary] The reason we decided to go ahead and do this with a partial story is that we know that this is something that happens to a lot of you. So one of the things we’ll be talking about are the tools that you can use to get yourself out of this spot.
[Brandon] Now, like the other podcasts we did of this nature, this will go longer than the 15 minutes. So be prepared. This is going to be a long episode as we begin to Howard’s story. I’m just going to lead the discussion as I normally do with these. As I often like to do… I don’t remember if I did it with the other ones… I like to start with what’s working whenever I’m doing a critique. Because I don’t want the writer to fix what’s working.
[Howard?] Awesome.

[Brandon] So let’s talk about it. What did we like about this piece?
[Eric] Well, one of the things I really liked is, I like the main character, the security guard. I like stories about people who are competent.
[Brandon] He was very competent. And it was shown to me how competent he was. There was very little telling of that, and it was great.
[Eric] Yeah. So that way… With a competent character, if they run up against something that’s outside their competence zone, that creates some good conflict. This story, I think, as a really neat concept with the whole immortality coming up thing and then is it Death, is it aliens, what’s interfering here? So I really liked the concept there and really wanted to know how it was going to end.
[Brandon] One thing I want to highlight that was working very well for me was the pacing. The way that you included your breaks really enhanced the sense of pacing. You had a nice little zing at the end of most of them. I was just… I was really engaged by this story. All the way through.
[Howard] I remember you actually cursing me when you got to the portion of the document that read “Boneyard” instead of…
[Brandon] I’m like, “What!” You had kind of indicated you weren’t done, and I’m like, “I’m hoping that means he just doesn’t know what to do with the epilogue.” Like I with my story.
[Laughter]
[Brandon] I read the whole story, and then you’re like, “I don’t know quite what to do…”
[Howard] Oh, dear.
[Brandon] No, it just stops. I’m like, “Argh. Tayler!” So…

[Mary] I… One of the things that I liked was the dialogue. Particularly because this is first-person, and you’re writing in first person present tense. I like the immediacy that that gives. I also like the character interactions.
[Brandon] I feel like you picked the right tense, and it helps… It enhances the story.
[Howard] That, by the way, is very gratifying, because as I was first writing this, I remember thinking, “You know, I used first-person present tense when I was writing the horror stories for Space Eldritch. I should just go with the straight third person limited.” I could not find the voice for the characters. So I changed characters. The original pitch for this was our protagonist was the CEO.
[Brandon] Oh, okay.
[Howard] But in that version of the story, he was just telling people what to do, and I thought, “This is boring.” He’s not… I mean, yes, he has to think a lot and do things, but all he is doing is telling people things. So I searched characters and it still didn’t feel immediate enough. Then I switched tenses and that appears to be where my stride and the pacing of this story fits. So I’m glad that’s working.
[Brandon] I remember brainstorming this way back when we did it, and even having brainstormed part of this with you…
[Mary] I was still surprised by stuff.
[Brandon] I was surprised by things. It was working real well. I still don’t know what the ending is. Even though we brainstormed the concept, I don’t know if this is an alien or if it’s actually Death or if it’s industrial espionage. I love that about it.
[Howard] Good.

[Brandon] Why don’t we go ahead and look at what’s not working for the part that’s already here, and then for the second half of the cast, we’ll tackle this sort of larger issue of how do I end the story, can you guys help me brainstorm an ending, this sort of thing. Okay?
[Howard] Okay.
[Mary] For me, his seconds are too similar. I found that I was doing a fair bit of confusing of who else was there. I think it has to do with speech patterns, and also his assessment of where they fit into the competencies. Because everybody seemed to be of equal competency levels.
[Brandon] And doing the same kinds of things.
[Mary] And doing the same kinds of things.
[Brandon] But, you know, one of the things that snapped when I learned that Mo was short for Mohammed. Wasn’t it?
[Howard] Yes.
[Brandon] That character suddenly became clearer in my head. It’s the whole Orson Scott Card thing, right? Where it’s not necessarily that he was an ethnicity, but the fact that he was now a longer name, different from the other ones and of a different… Like Orson Scott Card said, “When you’re naming characters, try to make each name distinctive from the others in an interesting way.”
[Howard] That was exactly what I was doing. With regard to their extreme similarity, that is always a problem with me with secondary characters during first and second drafts. It’s not until I have the story shaped the way it needs to be shaped that I can go back in and tweak the dialogue so that the characters’ speech patterns identify themselves a little more directly.
[Brandon] Looking back, at the start you called him Mohammed the first time, but I wasn’t into the story yet. He was Mo for a long time, and then when you called him Mohammed again, that’s the first time I grabbed onto Mohammed.
[Mary] I completely missed… I mean, I didn’t… It wasn’t sticky for me.
[Eric] Yep. It didn’t stick for me either. The one that did stick for me was the…
[Howard] Failalo?
[Eric] What?
[Howard] Failalo? The Polynesian name?
[Chorus] Yeah.

[Brandon] So. Talking about things that didn’t quite work. I’m going to try to start larger and go smaller. I’ve got some text-based things, but we’ll get to those later. I felt that there were a couple of places where the narrative got a little clunky for me. One was there was some maid-and-butlering in the scene between Woolrike? Wollreich?
[Howard] Wollreich.
[Brandon] Wollreich. That’s right, we just had a rike. Anyway, Wollreich and the protagonist chatting and it was like, “As you know, we hired these people…” There was a lot of information in there that as a reader I felt like I didn’t 100% need.
[Mary] I had a lot of that too. I went through and I marked in the text… There were… For me, it was a lot of the stuff about how incredibly valuable this thing was. I’m like, “You know what, I just need somebody to tell me this is valuable and I do not need them to justify it.”
[Brandon] At the same time, in that same sequence, we have like the… Our main character saying… This is… I’m thinking of stepping down or something like that which didn’t seem to work. I mean, I can understand him being shocked, but somebody needs to run security for this. They are going to need somebody. So it makes perfect sense that it would be him. But he’s like, “Oh, I’ve just realized my mission parameters are much larger than I thought. This is a big deal, I’m overwhelmed.” But there was this discussion of “I may need to quit, sir” or things like that. I’m like, “Who’s he gonna… Is he going to hire someone better than you?” I mean, I don’t understand that interaction completely. It was part of this… Do we need all of this? I’ve been presented with a character who’s like, “Tell me what we need to do. I’m going to then take the next few steps.” For him, finding out “Wow, you’re doing this awesome thing. Okay, I will have to deal with that.” Felt like… Anyway…

[Howard] I need to figure out how to fix that, because at least in the way I’m envisioning the further unfolding of the story, the corporate espionage angle here is pretty important and one of the principles behind protecting against corporate espionage is the value of the data in the value of the knowledge that the data exists…
[Mary] But you don’t need to spend as much time on the page getting to that.
[Brandon] That’s what I feel too. This was all good. In fact, I even like this conflict of am I capable of handling this. I just felt there was way too much spinning of wheels in this scene for me. I’m just giving reader response.
[Howard] No, no, that’s good. What I want to make sure of is that that’s not… That the thematic element isn’t the problem, it’s the way I’m over-narrating it.
[Mary] It is.
[Brandon] Right. I mean, one that I highlighted, just to go back, this is like “You know that inbound marketing team we created?” I’m like, “Why do we need to know about… What? They’re doing market research?” I mean, I think in just a couple lines you could say… You could get across the idea of this is how were going to profit on this with less back and forth. I don’t know. This is… I just was bored there.
[Mary] Likewise. It was because I got it really early on. So I think… Like you need a better…
[Howard] Part of this is…
[Mary] You figuring out what the…
[Howard] The world builder’s trap of I have figured out how the CEO and the Board of Directors is structuring this to protect the data as well as they can, and I want to share how clever I am with my readers.
[Mary] Yep. But you don’t actually need it for this story progression.
[Howard] Yep. Dialing back the sharing of the clever.

[Brandon] Although, on another tack, I’m not sure if this is for everyone else or not, but I kind of want to know if you’re going to mention we’ve discovered the secret to immortality. Either to just say that or to go further and say it means this and this or something. I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t the right time for it, but at the end I’m like… What is it?… All he says is “We’ve introduced an order of magnitude increase into human longevity.” The guy’s like, “You’re sure this works?” He says, “Yes.” The reader is like, “What does it mean, you’re sure it’s working? You’ve only had two years. Does it mean our cells are no longer breaking down?” I want a little line of proof.
[Eric] I had some plausibility problems with that as well.
[Howard?] As do I.
[Eric] Now, you can say it’s working in mouse studies or whatever. The original mouse who got it five years ago is still alive or whatever. I don’t know how long mice actually live.
[Brandon] I just need something there. I don’t need all the technobabble, but I need some… I need him to offer our guy some proof.
[Mary] I mean, if you said, “On a cellular level, aging is no longer happening.”
[Brandon] Yes. That right there. That tells me what kind of immortality this is.

[Mary] One of the places that I had a thing of disbelief was that his team, granted all hyper competent and everything, would just happen to carry around bugging equipment on them, when they’re doing a panic call. I’m like… Because he said, “It’s about the size of a wall plate,” when he’s talking about the transceiver. I’m like, “Having the camera dot, I can…” Okay, maybe that’s just in your bag all the time at a place where they don’t want you to do any…
[Howard] No, that’s a good point.
[Mary] They don’t want you to do any of this stuff. But you… I mean, what budget item was your secret bugging equipment on? So that… I had some… I had some disbelief with that.
[Brandon] Wow. That’s interesting. Now you say it, yeah, it pops in. With me, my problem with the bugging equipment was actually that I didn’t have explained to me how it worked. You assumed I knew, and I’m like… When they went in and they’re like, “Let’s download the feed.” I’m like, “What? Why?” I thought you were going to go look at a screen and have someone watching that all the time, he does that’s how security footage works for me and things. I was very confused at how…
[Howard] That’s funny.

[Mary] I also felt that there was going to be a… Let us… We want some live footage of him. I think… I mean, as fantastic as it is, watching them be… The problem with this is that it’s… This is one of the places that you demonstrate their area of competence and how well they work as a team. So for the overall story structure, important. But in terms of getting us the next information we need, all you had to do was to get rid of his prohibition against having the…
[Howard] Yep. You’re absolutely right. Well, and the other thing…
[Brandon] I’m going to go a different direction on this. I’m going to disagree. I really liked that scene.
[Mary] Oh, no, I like it too.
[Brandon] But I think it’s just… Easily justified with simply having him say, “I’d been looking for an excuse to convince myself to bug his room for a long time now. My men knew that. I have not gone forward with it because bugging my employer is not something I do unless I have a good reason.” Answer right there.
[Howard] Yup. That solves it. One of the reasons that it is important to me is that on a story level, the reader needs to be shown that the interloper, whatever he is, Death, alien, whatever… The interloper already knows enough to know exactly where the camera is in to speak to the camera.
[Brandon] Right. And the camera is not the corporation’s. It is our individual’s… Security team’s.
[Mary] No, that’s true.
[Howard] Exactly.
[Mary] That’s a good point.
[Howard] That’s…
[Brandon] That adds a lot of layers to this.
[Howard] We’re swiftly running up against the corner that I’ve written myself into.

[Brandon] Let’s stop for our book of the week, and then let’s go to the corner. Okay? So our book of the week this week… Mary, you’re going to do The Firebird?
[Mary] Yeah. So this is The Firebird by Susanna Kearnsley. This is a book that I picked up because I really like the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, and I went to see what else she had narrated, and she’d narrated this book by Susanna Kearnsley who I’d met at a convention and like. So I was like, “Oh, let me listen to this book.” It’s a little outside my genre, and loved it. This is… It’s urban fantasy… Or paranormal romance, I guess, but… Basically what she’s doing is she’s taking the traditional Firebird tale and she is retelling it in two time streams. One of them is a… I think 1400s Scotland? Maybe 1600s Scotland… I’m a little… I can’t remember now because it’s been a while since I’ve listened to it. The other is contemporary. So you’re getting the quest for the Firebird told through these two different time streams that weave together beautifully and also stand on their own beautifully.
[Brandon] Wow. That’s awesome.
[Mary] So if you want to look at nested narrative structures and really good character relationships, this is wonderful. The only caution that I have for you is that you should not listen to it while you are driving if you are prone to weeping.
[Brandon] Okay. All right.
[Mary] Because it’s got some very effective storytelling.
[Brandon] Well…
[Howard] Audiblepodcast.com/excuse, start a 30-day free trial membership, and pick up…
[Mary] The Firebird by Susanna Kearnsley.
[Howard] The Firebird by Susanna Kearnsley.

[Brandon] All right. So let’s address the big problem. Which is that our story that we were all really enjoying ends. Without and ending.
[Howard] Ends in the wrong place. Let me start by telling you the intended structure of the story is the thing that happens next is that the easy, logical answer for what’s going on is that our protagonist and his team are, for some reason, spoofing everybody with their camera and their tricks. Now this team has been brought into the full corporate secret. So… The bodyguards are there in a room full of the company’s brain trust, and honestly, the bodyguards are all armed. This is a situation that the brain trust is probably very, very uncomfortable with. Their logical action would be to immediately demand that the bodyguards disarm themselves. Which makes perfect sense. It follows…
[Brandon] Well, if I were in this situation, I wouldn’t do that. If I were in this situation, I would play along immediately. If I suspected the bodyguards, I’d say, “Wow, we need to do more research, investigation into this. Let’s set up a better surveillance and see if we can do this.” Then once the bodyguards were gone, then I’d deal with it. I don’t deal with it in the room right there with them.
[Mary] Ditto.
[Brandon] Nononono.
[Mary] When someone is in the room with you and they have weapons, you do not escalate. You defuse.
[Brandon] Yep. So I would try and… That’s… I think that…
[Howard] Okay. You know what, that works even better. That actually works even better. Because what they wanted to do is, they want to get the bodyguards out of the room. What the interloper wants to have happen… And the interloper is playing everybody.
[Brandon] Right. Okay.
[Howard] That is something that needs to be made clear as the story unfolds. This is a story goal. That is what the interloper expects to have happen, is that the bodyguards will be neutralized. Then the interloper and his interloper buddies will materialize in the room and murder everyone.

[Brandon] Okay. Okay, so what you have right now is… We are on our last act of this story.
[Howard] Yes. We are heading straight into…
[Brandon] This is the climax right here.
[Howard] Straight into the last act.
[Brandon] What do you want the interloper to be?
[Howard] Okay. The interloper is… And that’s the other trick, is revealing this information in some way. The interloper is a species of alien that… Some sort of extra dimensional alien that has found a way to feed off of energies released when people die. They can materialize in our plane and kill us, but when they do that, they are exposed to us killing them back. Which is something that they don’t want to have happen. If we just die naturally, well that’s awesome for them, because then… Hey, free food.
[Brandon] If we stop dying…
[Howard] If we stop dying, they all starve. So what they are trying to do is set up a situation in which they can maintain the status quo. For whatever reason, this to them seems like the best strategy.

[Mary] So I’m going to say that this is one of those scenarios where I feel like the bad guy’s plan is too complicated. The bad guy’s plan of I need to convince them to not do this… The plan up to the point of…
[Brandon] Let’s stop this.
[Mary] Let’s stop this.
[Brandon] That works good.
[Mary] That plan all makes perfect sense. The let’s kill all of these guys is really, really… Forgive me… Really, really stupid. Because if you can materialize anywhere…
[Brandon] Yes. You just smashup all their computers and their equipment, for one thing.
[Mary] And then you materialize in their bedrooms at night and kill them in their sleep.
[Brandon] Yup.
[Mary] Smother them with pillows.
[Brandon] Or you materialize in their bedrooms while they’re going to sleep and like, “I’m Death. I can go anywhere you… Let’s prove it. Go and lock yourself in any room you want. I will appear there. I can prove to you I am Death. Now stop what you’re doing.

[Howard] See, that’s one of the problems that I’m up against, because as I was trying to define a… For lack of a better term, a power set… Why don’t they just materialize everywhere? What is the cost for them of materializing and dematerializing? It’s got to be something beyond the risk of being seen. I also wanted to play with the fact that Texas I did some research into Death imagery. The fact that they look like a classic representations of Death is cool, but those classic representations of Death are the last 800 years, 900 years. So either they haven’t always been around for this isn’t what they’ve always looked like. But once I start opening all these cans of worms, the story gets bigger and bigger and bigger and that’s not what I wanted.
[Brandon] I think you were just fine saying, “They discovered our plane about the time these depictions of Death started appearing.” Solves a lot of your problems there. But the bigger problem is this one of how do we end this? Eric? You’ve been quiet for a bit, and you’re really good at this stuff. Do you have any advice?

[Eric] Well, I think part of the problem is how is the main character going to be involved in solving this problem?
[Howard] That is… I hadn’t actually gotten around to describing that. The main character… The way I had imagined it is that either when he is disarmed or when he is sent from the room, realizes that “Oh, this is a scenario that somebody potentially has planned for. Those people are now all in that room without protection. I’ve identified a threat that can materialize anywhere. I need to be back in that room.”
[Brandon] Okay. I think Mary’s argument that they can materialize in the bedrooms at night is really a big deal for this story.
[Mary] Yeah. So… Which may involve… This may be one of those places where you actually have to rejigger your middle a little bit. So it might be that this big scene that we have happening in the office gets shifted to a bedroom.
[Brandon] Right. Or you can rejigger it so that…
[Eric] Is that the right verb?
[Brandon] So that their experimenting with this whatevers… Immortality stuff involves the creatures’ home planet. So because of the science that’s going on in this lab, this causes the creatures to manifest here. They’ve broken open this plane, so it’s not just chemicals. It changes your story a lot. But it gives you a connection there that then it… It’s me, I’m looking for a magic system explanation. This is what I do. Then fixing it is a matter of if they can only manifest here, what do we do? Anywhere we’re going to use this, they manifest, so we come up with a solution that causes that they cannot manifest where were doing our research or something.

[Howard] The original version of… I say the original version of the ending. The ending that lept to mind as the story came to me while I was driving is that there is a fight. We realize that we can kill them. We somehow realize what their plan is, and that their numbers have bloated hugely as our numbers have gone up because there’s so much food. Now there are maybe millions of them, who can appear at will and will need to in order to eat. So we are going to give humanity immortality. Now we need to arm you, because you’re going to have to fight for it.
[Brandon] That’s a cool ending.
[Howard] It’s a really cool ending. I just gotta figure out how to get there.
[Brandon] That’s a great ending. I like that.
[Mary] But you know… I mean, you don’t have to… You don’t actually have to work as hard to get there as… Because all you need is… For that ending, is for your alien to appear and for there to be a firefight and for the alien to be killed.
[Brandon] Yup.
[Mary] That’s all you need. You already have everything in place. So you don’t need to get your good guys out of the room. You don’t need to do… You could actually…
[Brandon] You need to do… Find out the alien, have your good guy make the call that I’m going to go to his house at night, one of these things is going to show up, and I’m going to shoot it in the head or something, like Mary suggested earlier, which could be a valid way to go about this. I don’t know. The discovery that needs to be made is that these are aliens, this is what they do.
[Mary] One of the… If you want to do something with… Like have them look at the tape and be like, “Okay, so there’s… This thing occurs right before he appears.” This gives us a warning signal. So rather than have our guy push a panic thing…
[Howard] Was that… UV scatter? I actually forget…
[Mary] It was UV scatter, and it’s like, “Okay, if UV scatter is happening…” Or “look at the way he’s looking at things. We suspect that he is only seeing in this spectrum.” Or something.
[Brandon] Right. The other thing that you have going on here is that it looked right at the camera. So it saw them. What can it see, what can’t it see? Could it see you because it was watching the room and it didn’t get distracted by this thing? If you palm the thing and stuck it somewhere unobvious… If there were two cameras and it only spotted one of them, it tells us something about the alien that they can use. You need some sort of information about the alien that can be exploited.
[Mary] And something that… It is… Something in our main character’s area of competence. Which would be about threat assessment. If all of the scientists are looking at him, going like, “Well, it’s alien. Da-da-da-da.” And he’s like, “Screw that. This thing doesn’t have binocular vision.” Or something…
[Laughter]

[Howard] That’s exactly what I’m trying to set up. Is that he approaches this from threat assessment. They approach this… They come close for threat assessment when they’re talking about game theory and trying to understand what the motivation would possibly before running this sort of a scam.
[Brandon] I kind of like using the theme of the story. I kind of like the ending being him brushing in someplace and shooting the thing, just because it matches the first scene so well.
[Mary] It could be clearly this thing wants to talk to you. Because he’s like, “The only time this thing appears is when this room is empty or when Wollreich is in it by himself.” So let’s set up a scenario where…
[Brandon] You could have a let’s interview the alien scene where it’s like, “All right. We’re going to talk…”
[Mary] I don’t even…
[Howard] That’s… I like that because part of what that can give me is a scene break in which a lot of the discussion among the brain trust…
[Mary] Happens offstage.
[Howard] Yeah, happens off scene. As I talked to Mary about this in the commute from the airport before we stopped talking because we realized we might have a fun episode here… Oh, my gosh, we’re into 30 minutes.
[Brandon] Yes. I warned people. We’re going to have to wrap it up here really soon.

[Howard] I know we will. The… One of the problems I had is I wanted all of this information to be revealed, and I wanted to show instead of telling, but I had too many characters. I had too much information for one character to have it all, and too many characters for a short story to work. But if I can roll that offscreen and have somebody say, “All right. Wollreich, we need you to be in the office by yourself. Here’s the list of questions, and let’s see if this thing comes in.” Our hero has not told anybody that his threat assessment is “When this thing appears, I’m going to let Wollreich start talking, and then I’m going to kick down the door and shoot it in the head.”
[Brandon] See if they die?
[Howard] And see if it dies.
[Brandon] Okay. Well, we do have to wrap up. Hopefully this was useful for you. You can see this kind of story is really hard to feedback as a writer… As a writing group because it’s not done. It’s the same sort of problem we had with my story, where my ending was not the right ending, and we kept searching for it, and it was through the discussion that I got closer. But it is a tough thing to do. We’ll have to see how you do, Howard.
[Howard] This discussion has shown me that the corner that I had painted myself into is shaped differently than I thought it was. The part that I thought was a wall might be a door.

[Brandon] All right. So, writing prompt?
[Howard] You have painted yourself with actual paint into an actual corner, but there is a magic system in which the paint and the corner are significant elements. Why is you have painted yourself into a corner such an important element in this magic system that you’re going to make up?
[Brandon] Awesome. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | May 7, 2014 - 1:13 am - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.15: Becoming a Writer – Full Disclosure.

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/04/06/writing-excuses-9-15-becoming-a-writerfull-disclosure/

Key points: What don’t people warn you about being a writer? Dealing with bad reviews. Even good reviews can hurt. Don’t respond, don’t defend yourself, and consider getting someone else to filter them for you. Or don’t read them! Physical pain. Beware posture and typing problems. Also, watch for weight issues. Scheduling issues — deadlines interruptus! Multithreading! Task-switching in mid-project. Broken momentum. No time for leisure reading. Research, blurbing, but not “that looks interesting.” Consider audiobooks.

[Mary] Season Nine, Episode 15.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses. Becoming a writer, full disclosure.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] And the part of Dan this week will be played by…
[Dan] Dan.
[Brandon] Dan’s back!
[Chorus Yay!]

[Brandon] All right. So. We had a listener write to us and say tell me about the things they don’t tell you about. The parts of the job that may not be your favorite part, that you don’t… That people don’t get warned about. So we created a list, and it was very easy to create…
[Laughter]
[Brandon] A very long list very quickly. The first one I’m going to ask about is bad reviews.
[Mary] Yeah. So bad reviews are interesting. This is one of the places where my theater background comes in handy. Because if you get bad reviews… It’s actually not the… Like they just kind of don’t tell you about what’s going to be coming. There’s the bad reviews from the… Like Goodreads and things like that. Those you can kind of ignore. But my first review for Shades of Milk and Honey was “plodding and wooden” were two of the descriptions that were in there and it just… You look at it and you’re like, “Oh, God. That’s just… Ow.”
[Brandon] You don’t think it’s going to hurt because you’ve gone through writing groups. You’re used to people critiquing your writing. And then… Then it comes out and it does.
[Mary] Yeah, and part of it…
[Brandon] The Kirkus review for Elantris was one of those that…
[Mary] Was it?
[Brandon] Sanderson has a tin ear, and this… It just is this like… It’s not even horrible, but it was bad.

[Dan] Yeah. Well. That’s the thing. That even a good review that you disagree with hurts. We just got a review for Ruins that said something about Kira is off on a new adventure, where she has to decide if she will kill everyone she meets in order to save the world. I’m like, “That paints the book in a little more violent light than it really is.” It was a glowing positive review, except it played out an aspect of the book that I…
[Mary] Was not the…
[Dan] [inaudible]
[Howard] Related to that is the review or the commentary where somebody interprets your work for you as part of the review.
[Mary] Yes.
[Howard] You look at it and you say, “I did not put that in there on purpose, and in fact, on doing a little soul-searching, I didn’t put that in there accidentally, but that is now attributed to me. Thank you.”

[Mary] Yeah. One of the things that I want to point out about these bad reviews that is different from a negative critique that you get with your writing group is that you look at it, especially with your first one, and you know it’s going to affect sales and you look at it and you go, “Oh, my God, my career is over.” The other thing is, as a writer, you will focus on the negative. Like I can quote the negative parts of that review. But I cannot quote to you any of the positive reviews that I got.
[Brandon] This is just human nature. So preparing you for this, it will happen. If you don’t believe me, go read the one star reviews of Hamlet. It’s going to happen. You’re going to get bad reviews, and they’re not just going to come on Goodreads and this. You’re going to have professional reviewers that do not like your writing style. There is no one perfect writing style. You’re going to have to deal with that. Don’t respond.
[Mary] Don’t respond.
[Brandon] Don’t defend yourself. If this is something that really hits you hard, ask your agent or a family member to collect all the reviews and not show them to you until you are deep in working on your next project and at a point where hearing about this won’t completely throw you off. Because the real thing that scary about these is when you get them, if it stops you from writing.

[Dan] Well, it’s also an option to just never read them at all. Which is what I typically try to do. I will occasionally, if someone sends me one on Twitter that I know is going to be glowing, I’ll read it just for the ego boost. But I don’t read reviews.
[Brandon] There are writers, my agent says, that just have said, and this is perfectly all right, send me the good ones. The agent collects them, gets a nice packet, and sends it to them when they need a boost in the middle of the next project, that they can read through and say, “Wow, I am good at this” and keep going. All right, let’s move…
[Howard] My buddy Dave worked for the company that made the Fantastic Four videogame. He had a review posted on his office wall to remind him that they made a mistake. The review had a line in it that said, “Before we give this game its obligatory one star, we’d like to apologize to every other game to which we’ve only given one star.”
[Oohoho. Wow.]
[Howard] I remember that he had it on his wall because this was a case where the development team knew “You know what, we threw that one out the door. We shouldn’t have done that.” So maybe there’s something to learn from your reviews, but…
[Mary] Yeah. That is true. I will say that you can learn, but you cannot learn from them until you are in a place where you know how to evaluate them and that is not with your first book.
[Howard] No.

[Dan] All right. What else do we have?
[Brandon] Next one is physical pain.
[Dan] Ouch.
[Howard] Oh, my goodness.
[Mary] Yes. So, you want to dive into this one, Dan, since you were…
[Dan] I will start. I actually ended up… This career gave me spinal surgery two years ago. I had to get my tailbone removed because I could not sit down to do my job. So I actually stood, and a lot of people do standing desks or tread desks anyway. But, yeah, this job put me in an operating room at one point.
[Brandon] Didn’t you have something with your hands at one point as well?
[Dan] I did. That was mostly a misdiagnosis by an [insta-care?]. But yeah, I ended up with a… Not carpal tunnel, but ulnar nerve damage.
[Brandon] Howard?
[Howard] Yeah. I am now allergic to Advil.
[Laughter]
[Howard] Because… Okay, yes. If I take… If I take more than to Advil during a week, then I have G.I. difficulties. That is because I was using Advil to compensate for the fact that my hand and arm hurt all the time because I’d had so many sketch additions to do, I had so many comics to draw, and hey, I’m doing the sketch additions because money, and it was nice but it was really expensive. There have been times when, even when I didn’t think I was pushing too hard, I got home and realized I needed to soak my arm in a sink full of ice water because this hurts a lot.
[Mary] Yeah. Coming at it… It’s interesting that you say that, because I’m coming into it from a career in puppetry, which is an incredibly physical activity. I have more back issues from writing that I get from when I was working 125 pound puppets. Part of it is that I know when I’m looking at a puppet that weighs 125 pounds that I have to go to the gym and I have to be in condition. As a writer, I’m like, “I’m sitting on a chair all day. What happens if I slouch?”
[Howard] What’s the worst thing that could happen?
[Mary] That could happen… So one of the things they don’t tell you is that your posture is going to suck, that you aren’t going to get up and move around enough, that you will do repetitive things. So it’s worthwhile talking to an occupational therapist and coming up with good strategies, or even just reading about it.
[Dan] Well, it’s worth the expense. The extra 50 bucks to get the really nice office chair instead of the crappy one. And everyone’s different. I know Brandon writes on a couch, and that works for him. [Inaudible]
[Brandon] I write on a couch, or in an easy chair, and that… I’ve never had any problems with any of this. Because I’m always leaning back really… And I don’t know if this is bad posture or what, but it works for me. I also do use the tread desk, and I get up every hour or two and walk for a half-hour while I’m typing.
[Mary] Yeah. I think the getting up every hour is really the thing that I failed at.
[Howard] I think the worst part about the actual physical pain, the physical injury, is that when you try and explain this to anybody else…
[Brandon] Yeah. No way.
[Howard] Who has [inaudible] “Oh, poor guy. Sitting in your chair. Oh.”
[Mary] Actually, one other thing that I’m going to mention which is tangentially related that they don’t tell you about is that the change occupation will cause your weight to change. Some people it goes up, some people it goes down. But the change in activity is going to cause a change in your physical structure, and you need to be aware of that going in. And watch for things. Like watch for you forgetting to eat. Or you eating too much at your desk. Whichever it is.
[Dan] Yeah. It’s worth pointing out very briefly, once you get to the point where you’re doing book tours, that’s a week…
[Mary] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[Dan] Or two or three weeks where you are eating out constantly and…
[Mary] Yeah. And it’s very easy to fall into the “Oh, well, I should treat myself because I’m working so hard.”
[Dan] Yeah. And then you eat greasy junk every day for every meal. I’ve gotten to the point where when I travel, I try to eat vegetarian, just because I know it will force me into a better diet.
[Mary] Yeah. I am vegetarian, and I when I travel, I eat fish because otherwise I starve on tour.

[Brandon] Let’s go to our book of the week, which is Shambling Guide by Mur Lafferty.
[Howard] Oh, yes. Mur Lafferty’s Shambling Guide to New York City. It’s the story of a technical writer who gets a job writing a travel guide type book to New York City that is designed for zombies and vampires and the assorted coterie, I think, is what she calls them in the book, who are denizens of New York. So it’s a… It’s an urban fantasy. It’s delightful. I loved it. The sequel is actually out now, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Both are available on audio, but you definitely want to start with Shambling Guide. Small content warning, there’s some sexy peril in there that somebody’s going to read to you out loud. But I…
[Mary] That Mur is going to read to you out loud.
[Howard] That Mur… That’s right, Mur narrated this herself, and she’s got a podcast which we love, the I should be writing podcast.
[Brandon] All right.
[Howard] So go out to audiblepodcast.com/excuse. Start yourself a free 30-day trial membership and grabbed The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty absolutely free.

[Brandon] One thing that I wanted to put onto this list of things they don’t tell you about that you should prepare yourself for is once you are writing professionally, you will have deadlines. Most people are ready for deadlines in that meaning “Oh, I have to work really hard” or “I may have to put some extra time into this.” The thing about deadlines that blindsided me is I as a writer get very deep into a project. I think most of us do. The Ray Bradbury type write on one thing one day, write on another thing another day, is very rare. Most of us, you’re working deep on a book and you’re really into it, and that’s when inevitably you will get a call or something from the publisher that says, “All right. We have copyedits in. You need to do this and have it back next week.” The deadlines interrupting your other deadlines are what is so frustrating about this.
[Mary] Yeah. I just had that happen. I was… For Of Noble Family, I was working on that, proofing Valor and Vanity, and proofing the trade paperback corrections for Without a Summer. So I was working on all three of the books simultaneously.
[Brandon] Yeah, and it’s…
[Mary] That’s actually just in one universe, and it still made my brain explode.
[Brandon] For what happened to me…
[Howard] That’s part of the problem that I have ongoing because Schlock Mercenary, there is a rolling 30-day deadline which is that I need to have the comics uploaded 30 days in advance so that I can remain sane. Then, if there are other projects that I’m working on, I have to be Ray Bradbury. I have to be able to work on multiple things. And yeah, when a deadline roles and where somebody says, “Yeah, can we get this in two weeks?” Yes. But in order for you to get it in two weeks, I have to shave two weeks off of my comic buffer, and then I have to put those back in somewhere, and there is a convention coming up and… Oh, my holy time management.
[Mary] Yeah. This is…

[Brandon] I would say for me the biggest problem with this is that I need momentum on a book to get through the first draft. Interrupting a first draft is absolutely miserable for me. It’s particularly miserable if you have something like I have going on, where I have two publishers. Having two publishers makes this exponentially harder, where you’re working on a book, you’re deep in this book, and your other publisher writes and says, “We need these revisions. You promised to add this chapter to the book that we talked about in revision.” You’re just like, “I can’t. I need two more months to finish this book that I’m working on.” But they can’t wait two months. You have to stop, do this book, and it completely destroys your momentum. It’s something that you have to learn as a writer your own process. Be aware of your process and try to work with this.
[Mary] This will… This is one of the reasons that when I’m doing short fiction even, I will outline it. Because when that interruption comes, when I come back to the story I don’t have to… It’s… Because I’m not holding it in my head anymore, and I can at least remember a little bit where I am.
[Howard] I’m outlining a lot more than I used to for this exact reason. I started doing a lot of short fiction for Privateer Press. I’ve got multiple Schlock Mercenary projects I’m working on, and I can no longer afford to discovery write things because when I get interrupted… Not if I get interrupted, when I get interrupted, information will be lost if I haven’t put it down somewhere in an outline.

[Brandon] The last one on this list was one that Mary actually added which is not getting time to read for leisure.
[Mary] Yeah. That was something that they really did not… No one told me that when I signed up to be a professional writer, that my leisure reading time basically is dropped to nothing. When I’m reading a book these days, I’m either… Because I write historical among other things, I’m either reading for research or frequently I’m reading to blurb for somebody. I’m reading arc… Which is great. I’m getting to read interesting things, but I’m not getting to pick up things that I want to read based on just my own personal that looks interesting. I’m also… Because of knowing how my own brain works, I have to be careful about the kind of books that I pick up and read.
[Brandon] Right. Unconscious influence.
[Mary] Exactly.
[Dan] Yeah. I was really getting annoyed by this. So my solution was… And it’s not a… Still a perfect solution, but I’ve been teaching myself to speed read. Which changes the experience of reading, but it has helped a lot. I’ve been able to read a lot more because I can read literally twice as fast as I used to. And still have a lot of room for improvement on it, but…
[Brandon] What has helped me is actually audiobooks. This whole book of the week thing… It works for me. Because I have enough stuff that I can do that is not active full brain usage. Like, for instance, I’ll get sent 2000 tip in ages they’re called that get bound into a book and I’ll sign those. Or I’ll sign this or that. Or there’s things I work on. Beyond that, I found that early in my career, you spend all day writing, working with words, and then you spend all day revising, and then you read a few chapters for someone’s book for a blurb, and by the time you’ve done all that, you do not want to be sitting there reading. Audiobooks have allowed me to do something else. I can sit and I can sort Magic cards and still be reading. That’s worked really well for me. A side effect of this is… I don’t know if it happens to you guys, but a lot of people give me their books when I’m on tour or something, and they’re like, “Will you read my book?” I’m sure they’re just thinking, “Well, he reads anyway,” because I do. Then there’s the sense of well, maybe he’ll read my book. I don’t think they quite understand how little time I have and how precious that time is for me to read something I really would like to enjoy. So it’s very hard for me to get to these books. I appreciate being given them, but I’m really not getting to very many of them at all.
[Mary] Yeah. I don’t even have time to read… Like I haven’t even read your new book yet. Of course, granted, that will take me five weeks.
[Brandon] Yeah, it’s a little bit big. But… Anyway.

[Brandon]Let’s do a writing prompt. Dan, you’re back!
[Ha ha! Laughter]
[Brandon] You can give us a writing prompt.
[Dan] My back hurts so much. Okay. A writing prompt?
[Brandon] I mean, in your mind, you’ve only been gone one week, right? So…
[Howard] He’s talking his way into this. I can hear him.
[Dan] Talking my way into it.
[Mary] Okay, I’ll give you one.
[Dan] Oh, thanks, Mary.
[Mary] So your writing prompt is that your main character is, in fact, a writer and they want to write, but cannot because of some other completely bizarre professional requirement that is not one of the things that we have talked about.
[Brandon] All right. Excellent. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses. Now go write.

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By Tiffany Smith | November 7, 2013 - 1:57 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses Episode 26: Horror

http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/08/04/writing-excuses-episode-26-horror/

Key points: Horror is not just scary, it’s horrifying. Main characters are usually less competent than they need to be. Start by making the reader identify with the character, then put them through terror. The protagonist’s internal faults should at least balance the external horrors. An inescapable setting forces the confrontation. Horror: the more you know, the worse it looks. Horror is very personal, almost a private scale.

[Editorial Comment: I had a very hard time writing up these notes. I hope they are reasonably coherent, or at least give an impression of what was said.]

The horror genre: what is it?

Dan: the horror genre is lots of different things in lots of different venues. Most people today when you say horror to them they immediately think of slasher movies. I’ve been telling people, “I’m an author,” “Really? What do you write?” “Horror” and they immediately think of Freddy Krueger or some similar …
Howard: I think of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. That’s what I think.
Brandon: and I think of vampires and werewolves.
Dan: horror really includes all that. One of the things that you notice with horror is that it is not really a coherent genre unto itself anymore because it has been splintered off into dark fantasy and dark urban and …
Brandon: a lot of different genres have claimed chunks of it. This is just my armchair look at it, but it seems that during the late 90s horror became something of a pejorative term. Horror books were not selling, horror sections in bookstores were shrinking, so authors stopped writing horror and started writing dark urban fantasy.
Dan: this was identical to what they used to write, just had a different label and when on a different shelf in the bookstore.
Howard: Stephen King and Dean Koontz are mainstream. They sell a lot more books.
Brandon: I think Dean Koontz does not call himself a horror, he calls himself suspense. Thrill or suspense? Is there a difference between suspense and horror?
Dan: Yes. The suspense genre is hard to pin down. Most books have an element of suspense in them. Horror usually involves the supernatural.
Brandon: horror is supernatural or exaggerated. Exaggerated threats. Thriller exaggerates suspense, it’s overblown, larger than life. Horror is not just scary, it’s horrifying. It’s the extreme end.
Howard: in a suspense novel, we have a female police officer who is on the trail of the serial killer and she turns out to be his next target. A horror story may have the exact same plot, except halfway through we find out the serial killer is an Elder God.
Dan: with horror you tend to have main characters who are less competent in the area that they need to be. Not a cop.
Howard: I see that in fantasy and science fiction, too. The underqualified adept is thrown in over his head.
Dan: James Bond will never be in horror, but he could be in a thriller.
Howard: James Bond could be in horror. After the first chapter, he’d be dead.
Dan: Stephen King: horror is not spectacle. It is the girl next door, an unknown actress, hiding in a cabin holding a knife that you know she is never going to get to use.
Dan: that’s actually kind of cool. It has a lot of the main elements of horror in it. A character who is not a warrior, who does not know what they are up against, who doesn’t know how to deal with it, and who may not survive to the end.

Dan brings up an excellent thing that I wanted to bring up in this podcast. We want to focus on how to write these aspects. This is a writing podcast. We don’t want to just describe genre. How do you write characters for a horror book? How do you approach it differently than if writing for science fiction? What do you have to do differently?

Dan: you have to reduce their competence in the face of what they are facing
Howard: look at the difference between Alien and Aliens. Alien is very clearly horror. In Aliens, we start out going in with military guys who look very very competent, but then they are up against far more than we expected. It becomes horror. Their competence was reduced in the face of the trial.
Dan: Stephen King says he likes to take the character that the reader likes the most and put them through the burner. You start by making them like the character. You really have to be able to identify with the characters in horror. Very very closely. Specifically, they have to have faults. Maybe half of your book or slightly less will be about the overt obvious problem — I’m being chased by a monster or a killer or whatever — and the other half is about my wife doesn’t love me anymore, my kids don’t understand me, all of these personal conflicts. You have to have these in any story but it’s especially important in horror. It’s because I as a reader have never been chased by a werewolf so I’m not going to identify with that — it won’t resonate with me. However, my children are drifting away from me, my . . . these other personal relationships resonate.
Brandon: the inner demon versus the outer demons seems to be a huge theme in horror. Destroyed by an external forces that represent internal forces. The character struggles with internal but is ripped apart by the external monster that manifests them.
Dan: it doesn’t have to be a one to one allegory. You don’t have to write a purely representative horror. But the internal conflicts often are what is destroying the character.

This week’s writing excuses is brought to you by… pants. Pants: you put them on your legs. Put them — put them all the way up. Pants: put them back on, please.

Brandon: A lot of my favorite horror stories are told in first person for this exact reason.
Howard: if you try and use third person omniscient, you’ve given it all away.
Dan: you can use limited.
Brandon: I’m a big fan of Lovecraft. And it works because of things we’ve been talking about. He has this intense, deep first person thrown into something they don’t expect, which has a horrifying edge of the supernatural that is so scary and drives an insane. Part of the horror is watching monsters, but part is watching characters you like descend into madness.
Howard: a weakness is that he would tell you how scary it was by using words the most horrifying, undescribable
Brandon: you can’t just imitate him.
Howard: don’t say things like “this was the most horrifying thing she’d ever seen.” Say, “her jaw dropped, and her eyes began to quiver…”
Brandon: concrete details, particularly small concrete details
Dan: and some very non-concrete details if presented properly. When you boil it down, horror is about the unknown, the fear of not knowing what’s going on.

How do you write setting differently for horror?

Dan: one of the other aspects of horror is that the horror is inescapable.
Dan: this is why so many of them are in cabins. A setting where help is not available, escape is not an option, and you are forced to confront something you don’t know how to deal with.
Howard: holes in the understanding are dark and scary, revealing them can be frightening.
Brandon: in fantasy, the more I reveal, the better the setting, world, and imagery are. The more interesting and capable the characters are. In horror, the more you reveal, the worse it gets. Information makes things worse, it does not make things better.
Dan: you see this in movies, as soon as we get a clear look at the monster, the tension drains out.
Howard: a good way to define the difference between science fiction and fantasy and horror, how early in the show do you get to see the alien or monsters?

Plot — what do you do differently for horror?

Dan: when you reveal mysteries.
Howard: Stephen King quote take the character you like and put them through the burner
Dan: might have been grinder
Howard: any action you take to plot twist — when you make things worse. In a plot for horror, when you make things worse, you also make them terrifying.
Brandon: you want to make things personal. Even to the point of a smaller scale. One protagonist dealing with staying alive.

Closing words on horror?

Howard: Boo!
Dan: go out and read The Rats in the Walls and The Yellow Wallpaper


Writing prompt:

Dan: We’ve been talking about a descent into madness. So the writing prompt is a descent into madness written from the first person point of view. You are going to descend into madness, your writing will become gibberish or something horrible will happen, and then Brandon will scream.

[That wasn't a scream, that was a squeak. More like a chair being dragged across the floor.]

Current Mood: terrified
Current Music: The Thunder Rolls, Garth Brooks

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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 Izzy | February 17, 2012 - 1:50 pm - Posted in
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Writing Prompt

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week

Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Producer Jordo all walk through a room and each of us sees the room differently.

Soulless, by Gail Carriger. Vampires, werewolves and parasols in a steamy, punky, bodice-rippy, alternate-history London.

A physical attribute that in some way influences the character’s religion.

The Dark Divine, by Bree Despain

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

Beastly, by Alex Finn

“I have coated my left hand with magical ink.”

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson, which was the #1 bestselling book on Audible the week prior to this recording. Forty-five hours and thirty minutes of Sandersonian fantastical goodness, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading.

Watch Ian McKellen explain how to act. Many of you may have already seen this, but watch it again. Then let it inspire you…

Mr. Monster, by Dan Wells. This is the sequel to Dan’s first book, I Am Not a Serial Killer. While it is less bloody than the first, it is far, far more disturbing.

Two critics who reviewed Dan Wells’ book and who had completely opposite reactions actually read two different books …

Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

Write a story in which you take a cliched, angsty hero in a completely new direction, so that it doesn’t feel cliched.

The Tomb: Repairman Jack #1, by F. Paul Wilson

You need to change your shoes or something awful is going to happen.

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

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

The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1, by Jonathan Stroud, narrated by Simon Jones

A person gets surgery in order to imitate He Who Never Sleeps …

The Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold, narrated by Marguerite Gavin

You have decided to start “Zoo Club,” and you just punched an elephant really hard.

Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, narrated by Jim Colby. Content warning! This book has naughty words and some very adult concepts in it. Dan recommends it anyway.

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

The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, narrated by Richard Ferrone

Draw the floor plan of the house or building you’re in. Knock out a wall and write an action scene involving that.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming

It’s 1912 and Nikola Tesla is the President of the United States …

Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming

Go forward in time and get next week’s writing prompt.

Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett

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

I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

You are walking down a back alley and you meet Jason from DragonMount. He’s getting all uppity about how good his submission was. What do you do to him?

Dune, by Frank Herbert, narrated by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton and Simon Vance

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

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

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

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, narrated by Adam Grupper

Brandon decided to read the first two paragraphs of Empire of the East to us because it’s all dialog and seemed to fit.

Empire of the East, by Fred Saberhagen, narrated by Raymond Todd

Pick a major event in history that you love and make it come out differently.

Crown of Slaves and Torch of Freedom, both by Eric Flint and David Weber. These books fit in Weber’s Honor Harrington universe, but don’t require you to have read all the Honor Harrington books.

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

The Runelords, by David Farland, narrated by Ray Porter. The first four books in the series are now available in audio format.

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

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

Envision a world in which writers are subject to the whims of their readers via a pleasure-pain induction system … in real-time.

Island Realm: Crystal Doors, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

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

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

Take a Lovecraftian beastie and shove him into The Shire.

Night Pleasures: The Dark Hunters, Book 1, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

Somebody wrote a novel about an alien invasion. One year later the aliens invade exactly per the details in the novel.

Born of Night: A League Novel, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, narrated by Kelly Fish

Write something. Oh, it may seem trite, it may seem like a joke we played on our guest, but it sprang from the mind of Tracy Hickman himself so, you know, get on it.

The Golden Queen: Book 1, by David Farland, narrated by Peter Ganim

Take the climax of your story and ask yourself what you’ve left out of earlier scenes that might be preventing it from being the best moment of the story. You’ve certainly left something out. Go put it in.

Dragons of the Dwarven Depths: The Lost Chronicles Volume 1, by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss, narrated by Sandra Burr

Write an action sequence that you can appropriately title “Flaming Slapfight.”

Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia, narrated by Oliver Wyman

Create a character, and then create a complementary character who both meets a need and provides an unwelcome challenge.

I Don’t Want To Kill You, by Dan Wells, narrated by Kirby Heyborne. It’s true, this book has some great romance in it. Also murder.

Give us an Urban Fantasy in which the point of origin for your crossover is big box store retail spaces which somehow breach the boundary between our world and the magical one.

The Dresden Files Book One: Storm Front, by Jim Butcher, narrated by James Marsters

Any time you’ve caught cold you’re actually being possessed. Gesundheit.

The Dragon Factory: The Joe Ledger Novels, Book 2 by Jonathan Mayberry, narrated by Ray Porter

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

Freakonomics, by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner, narrated by Stephen J. Dubner

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.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn, narrated by Marguerite Gavin

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.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Inheritance Trilogy, Book 1, by N. K. Jemison, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Start with a highly magical, pseudo-medieval fantasy setting. Now … how do you deal with baldness?

Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev, narrated by Cynthia Bishop

Write a dialog between someone ordering at a drive-through and someone taking the order, but the person taking the order is being held up at gunpoint.

Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi’s reboot of H.Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy, narrated by Wil Wheaton.

Tom ended up singing his response to our writing prompt. What can you do with the words “wizard” and “bakery?”

Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

Write a piece of flash fiction that can be printed on a business card. Hat tip to Eric James Stone, whose business cards are awesome.

“Election services offered online via an Amazon link.”

Here’s the Amazon link for the paperback release of John Brown’s first novel, Servant of a Dark God,

Imagine a future in which political elections are now voted by botnet. Give us a story in which this is actually the best of all possible democracies.

By Izzy | - 12:39 pm - Posted in
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Writing Prompt

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Come up with a list of three things that are important to your main character. Push one of those things out of alignment so that it will draw your character to the antagonist’s side.

Hard Magic, by Larry Correia, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Take a horrible, hard-to-domesticate animal and then create a culture in which somebody has figured out how to domesticate these beasties.

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge, narrated by Peter Larkin

Populate Excustoria’s coast with some magically, meteorically mutated life.

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudniki. It’s a fantastic example of well-constructed flora and fauna, and it’s also a good example of how to make a sequel almost completely unlike the book that came before it.

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

Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, narrated by the author

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.

Terrorists in Love: The Real Stories of Islamic Radicals, by Ken Ballen, narrated by Peter Ganim

Give us a story with an old, colonial British type eating marshmallows. For extra points, set it in the Schlockiverse. (Note: no actual points will be awarded.)

Our stuff! Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, (and lots of things narrated by Mary), and Dan Wells’ John Cleaver trilogy.

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

His Majesty’s Dragon: Temeraire, Book 1, by Naomi Novik, narrated by Simon Vance

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

The Terror, by Dan Simmons, narrated by Simon Vance

Write what one of your characters would write if that character had a blog.

One Salt Sea, by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

What if dreams became so much more vivid that when you woke up, for a full hour you didn’t know whether you were still dreaming or not?

Startide Rising, by David Brin, narrated by George Wilson

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.

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

Stick an omniscient narrator scene in between two 3rd-person limited scenes.

Have two characters carry on a dialog which is out of sync with what each of them are thinking.

Acacia, by David Anthony Durham, narrated by Dick Hill

“Jack Black stranded alone on an alien planet.” Your challenge? Make us like the main character and want him to live…

Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey, narrated by Dick Hill

Write a series of 16 numerals. This is probably Jordo’s credit card number, or at least one of them (in one of the many universes where he is still allowed to use credit cards.) Go shopping! Oh, you’ll need the expiration date! It’s April 1st, 2012.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies, by Rob Wilson and Rhena Branch, narrated by Simon Slater

Take an existing folk tale and re-tell it using the Dora the Explorer formula for quests.

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal, releases this week! We’ve put links to it over here on our brand new Book of the Week page!

Give us a monkey, a bronze pot, a baby, and pizza in completely different situations than what we heard in Mary’s outline.

Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Simon Vance

Give us a character who, after reading one Larry Correia novel, goes out and procures a grenade launcher.

Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Corriea, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Find a writing buddy, swap stories halfway through, and then compare notes.

Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen, narrated by Stephen Langton

You get kidnapped and put in an asylum for the criminally sane.

Everneath, by Brodi Ashton, narrated by Amy Rubinate

Adapt the unadaptable fairy tale Mary introduced us to (the one about the little old lady who catches on fire and dies).

The Slab, by Michael R. Collings, narrated by Andy Bowyer

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.

Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

Write a flashback, in a prologue, with a mirror scene. Yes.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

You can only go back in time as far as your own life-span, but somebody needs to go back a hundred years. A team of 100-year-olds is assembled as time traveling heroes.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, narrated by Fred Berman and Phoebe Stole

Take a character of yours, and split that character into a character and a foil.

Stranger in a Strange Land (unabridged), by Robert A. Heinlein, narrated by Christopher Hurt

Your characters needs to perform a reverse-heist, putting jewels into a safe without getting caught.

The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton, narrated by Michael Cumpsty

From Earl K. Hill, our cameraman: tell a whole story from the view of the sidekick.

Partials, by Dan Wells, narrated by Julia Whelan

Regarding riding mounted beasts—make the cost to the rider so high that it’s almost never worth it. Now create circumstances under which it’s always worth it.

Sharpe’s Rifles, by Bernard Cornwell, narrated by Frederick Davidson

Have Queen Victoria’s cousin not die. How is history changed?

The Hollow City, by Dan Wells, which, as of this writing, doesn’t show up on Audible’s site. We counsel patience.

Take a hero and give him a hobby, and something alive that he loves.

Imager, the first book of the Imager Portfolio, by L.E. Modesitt Jr, narrated by William Dufris

The story of the writer and her VERY ENTHUSIASTIC alien fan who is impossible to escape.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, narrated by Jenny Sterlin

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.

Sucks to be Me, by Kimberly Pauley, narrated by Nancy Wu

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

Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss, narrated by Christopher Slade

Describe a setting. Then, without using any emotion-words, describe that same setting again three more times from a happy, sad, and angry point of view.

All Men of Genius, by Lev AC Rosen, narrated by Emily Gray

“The Hairy Housewife,” because Brandon didn’t hear Howard correctly the first time he said “harried.”

The Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant, wraps up with Blackout, and is a very satisfying example of a series that does something different with each book.

For some reason one character is put into the body of another character.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, narrated by David Colacci

Google military three-letter-acronyms (IED and RPG are off-limits.) Swap out one of the words for a supernatural descriptor beginning with the same letter. That’s your story seed.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton

Cheerful ruffians, civilized louts, yes—but, no—and ready, set, go.

Existence, by David Brin, narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Robin Miles, and L. J. Ganser

Put your characters in a place they cannot escape and keep them there.

Shanna plugged “One Hot Summer,” but the actual title is One Long Hot Summer. It is not currently available Audible, but it’s available on Amazon at the link above. There are lots of other things on Audible for you to listen to, including four titles featuring Shanna Germain.

Find a way to kill a character. Then write it in three ways: sad, heroic, and accidental. As an alternative, take a story you’ve already written, and write a different ending so that someone dies instead of living, or lives instead of dying.

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, by Mignon Fogarty, narrated by the Grammar Girl herself

You’re on a sidewalk late at night. You’re approached by three young, black males. Write the scene from their perspective. (Alternatively, simply jump off from “magical redneck,” but note that Maurice has already done that one.)

The House of Discarded Dreams, by Ekaterina Sedia, narrated by the Robin Miles

Try out the seven-point story structure for yourself. Outline something!

Enchanted, by Alethea Kontis, narrated by the Katherine Kellgren

Pick a place where teenagers are not typically allowed, and put a teenager in that place.

Chasing the Skip, by Janci Patterson

Write a story in which all the characters are simultaneously the good guy AND the bad guy.

Railsea, by China Mieville, narrated by the Katherine Jonathan Crowley

Introduce a place without using dialog. Describe five panels for an artist to draw, so that the reader has been introduced to the location.

Swords and Deviltry: The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, by Fritz Lieber, narrated by the Jonathan Davis and Neil Gaiman

Write a story about a squid who’s trying to write a space opera which is not about squids in space.

Hellhole, by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert

Come up with a magic system based on stamps, but that has nothing to do with forgery.

Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by the William Dufris

Raise the stakes without resorting to risks to reputation, livelihood, or mental health. Or explosions. Don’t use those, either.

Control Point: Shadow Ops, by Myke Cole, narrated by the Corey Jackson

“The Multi-Tentacled Space Goat cannot come and save us again.”

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by the Scott Brick

Start a new story. Give us character, place, and sense of tone. Do it one sentence, and do it within 13 lines (which is what typically appears on the first page of a manuscript.)

The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, narrated by the Julie Dretzen

Give us a magic system in which the thumbnail, the under painting, the other imagery are the basis for the magic.

The Dragon Factory, by Jonathan Mayberry, narrated by the Ray Porter

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

The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin, narrated by the Casaundra Freeman

Two different characters, two different magic systems . . . 

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik

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

A Short Stay in Hell, by Stephen L. Peck, narrated by Sergei Burbank

Figure out what you would like the future of writing to look like. Now write a story about how we get there.

The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Holter Graham