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

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

Comments Off
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.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.

Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership.

Audible Free Trial Details

Get an audiobook of your choice, free, with a 30-day trial. After the trial, your paid membership will begin at $14.95 per month. With your membership, you will receive one credit every month, good for any audiobook on Audible.

Cancel anytime, effective the next monthly billing cycle. Cancel before your trial ends and you will not be charged. Check out the full terms and policies that apply to Audible membership.

By Izzy | February 17, 2012 - 1:50 pm - Posted in
  • Episode #
  • Episode Name
  • MP3 Download
  • M Barker Transcript
  • Date
  • Episode Length


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
  • Episode #
  • Episode Name
  • MP3 Download
  • M Barker Transcript
  • Date
  • Episode Length


Writing Prompt

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week

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