When Writing Excuses was invited to be guests of honor at Westercon 67, we had the opportunity to interview numerous guests of the convention, each of whom were luminaries in their respective fields.

We met Brad Voytek, who is a doctor of neuroscience and a professor of computational neuroscience at UC San Diego, for the first time right there at the show, and immediately knew that we wanted our listeners to have the chance to hear from him. One of his passions is treating science fiction as a gateway to (and in some cases an actual example of) science education.

He starts by talking about Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep, which teaches the reader about the brain by telling the story of what would happen if a zombie walked in to the emergency room. Mary talks about Launch Pad, the NASA workshop for writers. And then Brandon tells us about blending vegetables into junk food…

We grill Brad mercilessly, and have great fun with the whole show as we talk about some of our favorite science fiction, and a few of our favorite starting points for learning actual science.

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The City & The City, by China Mieville, narrated by John Lee.

Writing Prompt: A sapient sheep desperately needs a delaying tactic. If it gets shorn, bad things will happen.

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By Writing Excuses | August 10, 2014 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Artwork, Editing, Q&A, Season 9, Setting, Submitting, World Building

Microcasting!

It’s our Q&A format, in which each answer is like its own, tiny little podcast, only without its own unique URL, intro, writing prompt, or any of the other trappings that would actually make it different from a Q&A session.

Right. So, it’s basically just a Q&A.

Listen to the podcast for the answers… Here are the questions:

  • Are there biases against non-English writers submitting manuscripts in English?
  • What is the most difficult thing Howard experienced when first creating Schlock Mercenary?
  • Are you ever too old to try to get published?
  • What are some pointers for keeping a milieu story focused on the setting?
  • No, you can’t have a sample of our DNA. None of you.
  • If you were to rewrite your early work, what would you change?
  • How do you improve your proofreading and copy editing?
  • How much time do you spend writing each day? Does it matter WHAT you write during that time?
  • Do you add foreshadowing in the editing stage, or are you just that good?
  • How do you improve your craft as a writer?
  • I don’t have time to ask a question, I’m washing my dog.
  • Do you have any writing exercises that you do regularly?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Attack the Geek, by Michael R. Underwood, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Prompt: Introduce a random element--dice, coin-tosses, the i ching--and write a story in which you (the writer) commit to letting the random element make the decisions.

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By Writing Excuses | August 3, 2014 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Plot, Season 9

Let’s adjust sliders again! This episode references our sliding scales for characters, and this time around we’ll be talking about how proactive a character is. We also talk about the verb “protag.” Because protagging is what protagonists should do, especially later in our stories.

Our goal is to be able to consciously adjust a character’s level of proactivity in order to similarly adjust how engaging that character is for our audience. We talk about the techniques we rely on, and some of our favorite stories in which we’ve seen these techniques employed.

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, narrated by Diane Warren

Writing Prompt: Tie your protagonist up, and then have them protag their way forward in the story with nothing but dialog.

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SPOILER ALERT!

This is our fourth and final SHADOWS BENEATH story critique episode. This episode’s story, “An Honest Death,” by Howard Tayler, is available as part of the aforementioned Writing Excuses anthology, pictured there on the right, which includes the the draft we critiqued in this episode along with the final version.

We still have a few of the first-printing hardcovers left, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the electronic edition at no additional charge.

This week we find Howard in trouble. He is, in a word, stuck.

Can our heroes help him? Can special guest Eric James Stone lend enough of his special guest expertise to complete the rescue?

We start with a discussion of what was working, so that Howard doesn’t accidentally “fix” something that isn’t broken. Then we wade into the weeds and go hunting for the pieces he needs in order to finish the story. And when we say “the weeds,” we’re talking serious wandering. The episode runs a full half-hour long…

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Writing Prompt: You have, with actual paint, painted yourself into an actual corner. But the paint and the corner are in a world in which there is magic, and "you painted yourself into a corner" may very well be some sort of a spell.

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SPOILER ALERT!

This is the third of our SHADOWS BENEATH story critique episodes. This episode’s story, “A Fire in the Heavens,” is available as part of the aforementioned Writing Excuses anthology, pictured there on the right, which includes the the draft we critiqued in this episode along with the final version.

We still have one more SHADOWS BENEATH critique episode, so it’s not too late to grab a copy for yourself. Oh, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the ebook at no additional charge.

Mary runs this session like she runs her own critique groups using what’s often called the Milford method in which we each take two minutes to run through our thoughts on the story. We do that for the first half of the episode. During the second half Mary asks us questions, sometimes for clarification about what we said, and sometimes for suggestions.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Rip-Off! Written by: John Scalzi, Jack Campbell, Mike Resnick, Allen Steele, Lavie Tidhar, Nancy Kress, Gardner Dozois (editor) Narrated by: Wil Wheaton, Scott Brick, Christian Rummel, Jonathan Davis, Stefan Rudnicki, L. J. Ganser, Khristine Hvam

Writing Prompt: A brainstorming session spawns life somehow.

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HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! Also, merchandising!

This is the second of our 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. If you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the ebook at no additional charge.

Can you get a lot out of this episode without having done the reading? Yes! But we don’t know what those things will be. Can you get a lot out of this episode without having listened to Part 1? Probably, but here’s a link to it in case you have doubts.

Having covered the stuff we loved in Part 1, this episode is the big downer where we just focus on the problems we found. But hey, that’s how stories get to be better! We start with the big ones, and then work our way back up to the little things.

We recorded this episode live at last year’s Out of Excuses Seminar and Retreat. Our audience of awesome attendees can be heard cheering when we finally slay the [SPOILERS REDACTED] with our collected powers of [REDACTED AGAIN.]

 

 

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, by Diana Rowland, narrated by Allison McLemore

Writing Prompt: Have a man who plays the musical saw find more than one additional use for the saw during the story.

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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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