This is the first of our DANGER SPOILERS AHEAD story critique episodes. The story, “Sixth of the Dusk,” is available as part of SHADOWS BENEATH, the Writing Excuses anthology, which includes the finished story (obviously) and the version we critiqued in this episode. SHADOWS BENEATH also includes the stories we’ll be critiquing for the rest of July’s episodes, and some other pretty cool stuff that you can read about here. Oh, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the ebook at no additional charge.

Sure, you can totally listen to this episode without having done the reading. We cannot stop you! Howard looked around for a full hour, but there’s no “stop playback for people who have not done the homework” button anywhere here.

This is also the first half of a two-part episode. We spent about 40 minutes hammering on Brandon’s story, and that’s just too much Writing Excuses for one week. Oh, and we recorded this episode live at last year’s Out of Excuses Seminar and Retreat. You’ll hear our audience of awesome attendees responding to us.

We run this session like Brandon runs his critique group — we begin by talking about what we liked, so that the writer knows what not to accidentally remove during revisions. Then we drill down on the things we have problems with, and you know what? There were a bunch of those things! Like most writers, Brandon’s first drafts are imperfect things that have problems in them.

We also run this session in a way that we don’t actually suggest you run your critique groups, at least not until you’ve put a bunch of critique sessions under your belt.

That Thing Howard Said to Brandon Between Sessions has been lost to time. Or repressed memory. Sorry.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by Scott Brick. (Note: This version of the audiobook has the Will Smith movie cover, but it's also the best-ranked version.)

Writing Prompt: A setting in which you can vote through time for things.

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By Writing Excuses | June 29, 2014 - 7:47 pm - Posted in Outlining, Research, Season 9, Site News, Voice, World Building

What’s pre-writing? Well, it’s a little bit like “pre-cooking,” in which something is cooked prior to being put in the final recipe, but in food terms it might also be like “cleaning the kitchen” or “grocery shopping.” Outlining is one kind of pre-writing, but so is the creation of that 5,000-word prologue you decide not to keep, but which informed the whole rest of your story.

We talk about the different things that each of us do prior to actually laying down lines of prose, and how our processes differ between projects, genres, and mediums.

Special Announcement: The first ever Writing Excuses anthology, SHADOWS BENEATH, is available now. This anthology features stories brainstormed and critiqued here on the podcast, and includes draft versions, related episode transcripts, and authorial commentaries as well. Let Brandon tell you more about it!

Our critiquing episodes will begin airing next week, so if you want to read ahead, now’s the time to pick up SHADOWS BENEATH. Oh, and if you order the hardcover, you get the ebook free of charge!

SHADOWS BENEATH launches this weekend at Westercon 67, where Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard are Guests of Honor alongside Cory Doctorow, Christopher Garcia, William Stout, and Bradley Voytek.

Loving That Cover Art? Us too! It’s the work of Julie Dillon, who is on the 2014 Hugo ballot for Best Artist. You can admire (and comment upon!) the unobstructed original here in her DeviantArt gallery.

Dave Farland’s Writing Workshops sponsored us for this episode! Both Brandon and Dan have studied under Dave, and we’re all happy to wholeheartedly recommend his workshops to you. If you can’t fly to his place, well, visit MyStoryDoctor.com and take the online course. The coupon code for your Writing Excuses discount is EXCUSES, but don’t think that means you actually HAVE any of those…

Writing Prompt: Sapient smells. Odors that think. Scents with their own hopes, dreams, and passions. Go.

By Writing Excuses | June 22, 2014 - 9:40 pm - Posted in Characters, Season 9

This podcast references episode 9.13 where we introduce a three-slider model for characters.  In this episode we’re talking about how we adjust the reader’s perception of character competence, and why we might want to make the character more or less competent (or seem more or less competent.) We also talk about how competencies vary between domains, and how important it is for our characters to move between those domains.

Techniques discussed include showing failure, giving context, raising the stakes, and having competent antagonists.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page

Writing Prompt: Take a very minor side character and make them hyper-competent at something.

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By Writing Excuses | June 15, 2014 - 8:34 pm - Posted in Characters, Season 9

This podcast references episode 9.13 where we introduce a three-slider model for characters. Here we talk about character sympathy, or rather the sympathy that the reader will have for the character, and how we as writers go about adjusting that sympathy — moving the slider, if you will. We also talk about why we want to make that adjustment, whether we’re dealing with villains, side-characters, or protagonists.

Some of our tricks for moving the slider include changing the characters around them, controlling the distance between the reader and the character, showing character weaknesses, and using humor to mask the unsympathetic moments. We talk about how we’ve deployed these tools in our own work, and how we’ve seen it done well in the work of others.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Butcher of Khardov: The Warcaster Chronicles Volume 2, by Dan Wells, narrated by Marc Vietor.

Writing Prompt: Take something that you've written recently. Swap out all of the dialog with completely different words (you can keep articles and pronouns) but retain the meaning.

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By Writing Excuses | June 9, 2014 - 10:45 am - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, eBooks, Publishing, Scenes, Season 9

Side quests come in a couple of forms — they may be something inside the book that takes the characters away from the main plotline, or they may be adventures that take place outside of the book itself.

We talk about the first type, and how to make sure they’re in the book for the right reasons, citing examples from The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, Redshirts, The Way of Kings, and The Hollow City among other stories.

In covering the second type, we talk about how ebooks have made ancillary, side-quest releases more common, and we cite the book trailers for the Partials series, the Glamourist Histories Christmas Stories, Steelheart, and the Schlock Mercenary Bonus Stories.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy and Todd Harris, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Writing Prompt: Create a story in which you have an incredibly powerful character, and a sidekick, then flip the relationship so the sidekick is in charge.

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By Writing Excuses | June 1, 2014 - 6:20 pm - Posted in Sci-fi, Season 9, World Building

Can you use a character with a limited viewpoint to introduce a reader to the fantastic elements of the world you’re building? Even if from that character’s point of view, those elements are not fantastic? In short, how do you get a fish to tell you about water?

This question came from a listener, and before we set about attempting to answer it, we need to establish that this is really difficult. It is one of the grand achievements of well-written genre fiction. There are lots of hacks we use to get around the problem, but what we try to do in this cast is answer the question without any of those tricks. Of course, we also want to cover the hacks, because we use them.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Extraordinary Zoology: Tales from the Monsternomicon, Vol. 1, by Howard Tayler, narrated by Scott Aiello

Writing Prompt: Come up with a really nifty, high-tech setting, and then present it using POV characters who have no idea how all these wonders work, and who take them for granted.

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By Writing Excuses | May 25, 2014 - 6:57 pm - Posted in Career, Characters, Q&A, Season 9, Submitting

Microcasting! It’s a Q&A, with each question serving as its own little micro-podcast. This week’s questions:

  • Should you include your prologue as one of the three chapters you send in a submission packet?
  • How do you get out of the spot where your protagonist has no motivation?
  • What’s the best way to prove to a spouse that your writing is more than a hobby?
  • How do you get back into a project after taking a break from it?
  • Where do you start research for historical fiction?
  • Let’s say you sold your first book. How do you tackle book 2 in a series?
  • How do you go about writing an overarching setting, like Brandon’s “Cosmere?”
  • What part about being a writer do you most enjoy, besides the actual writing?

Those are the questions. You’ll have to listen for the answers. Fortunately they’re not hidden or anything. We just come right out and say them.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Fall of the Kings, by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, narrated by Ellen Kushner, Nick Sullivan, Neil Gaiman, Simon Jones, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Richard Ferrone, and Tim Jerome

Writing Prompt: Look around, identify an everyday object, and then create a post-apocalyptic setting in which that object is currency.

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By Writing Excuses | May 18, 2014 - 7:26 pm - Posted in Season 9, World Building

Brandon has some rules about magic systems — rules he uses as guideposts for his own writing. In his own words, “I name them Sanderson’s Laws partially out of hubris…”

Sanderson’s third law states, in effect, that a thorough exploration of a single magical ability is better than the creation of lots of different abilities–going for depth rather than breadth. And to immediately break that rule, we explore the wider application of this rule in other arenas.

We talk about how we apply this principle–depth rather than breadth–in many aspects of our own work, and then we drill back down (*ahem*) on its application in the creation of magic systems.

 

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, narrated by Simon Prebble

Writing Prompt: A magic system in which digging holes somehowe generates magic, and the depth, breadth, and location determine what kind.

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By Writing Excuses | May 11, 2014 - 6:06 pm - Posted in Career, Season 9

This topic breaks down into two parts:

First: sometimes you create something, and when you hand to your fans, it becomes their thing. How do we as creators deal with this when it happens, and how do we prepare ourselves, and our works, for this eventuality? And how does this impact our desire to foster a sense of community with our fans?

We talk about our experiences with this, which have been surprising, eye-opening, confusing, and a whole bunch of other things, including exceedingly rewarding.

Second: what’s the difference between liking something someone has created, and liking that person as a creator? Is it possible to not like a creator, while still enjoying the things they’ve made? Where do we draw the lines?

(Aside: when Mary called “can of worms” on “how to express an opinion,” she didn’t know that our recording of that can of worms would air before the recording of us opening of the can. It’s Episode 9.14, right here!)

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

Writing Prompt: One of your creations has gained a life of its own, and it's something beyond the merely metaphorical "life of its own" that we talked about in this podcast. How did that happen? What happens next?

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By Howard Tayler | May 9, 2014 - 9:56 pm - Posted in Site News

The applications have been reviewed, re-reviewed, sorted, parsed, and very meticulously evaluated, and the time has come to announce the recipient of the 2014 scholarship for the Out of Excuses seminar and retreat.

Congratulations, Julie Rodriguez!

Julie has been notified by email and has accepted. We’re all looking forward to having her join us at this September’s event.

Thank you, applicants, for your interest. We’re honored (and perhaps a wee bit intimidated) to have so many high-quality writing samples to review. Speaking of which, we’re very grateful to the scholarship selection panel at the Carl Brandon society (Wesley Chu, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, John Lawson, and K. Tempest Bradford) for their help with the review and administration of the scholarship.

And thank you, all of you who have expressed interest in the Out of Excuses event itself. We recognize that the demand is currently far in excess of what the retreat facility can accommodate. We don’t have anything to announce on that front, be we are up to our elbows in the investigation of possible alternatives.

Venue options notwithstanding, we’ll definitely be holding seminars and retreats in the future.