12.3: Project in Depth, “Risk Assessment,” by Sandra Tayler

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, with Sandra Tayler

This Project in Depth episode contains spoilers for “Risk Assessment,” which is included in Force Multiplication: Schlock Mercenary Book 12The story was written by Sandra Tayler, and illustrated by Natalie Barahona. Howard handled the writing and illustrating for the framing story, but this episode isn’t about that part.

Risk Assessment is a romance wrapped up in an adventure, and is very different from most of the rest of Schlock Mercenary. Have a listen, and Sandra will tell you about it.

Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Write a “meet cute,” that scene in which our romantic leads meet, and we get to have crushes with, or perhaps on them.

In the Cube, by David Alexander Smith (out of print, but available used)

Writing the Other: a Discount Code for Listeners

Our friends at Writing the Other continue to host a wide range of classes addressing the manifold facets, angles, and approaches to getting our not-the-same-as-us characters written correctly.

On February 26th, Beyond the Basic Bi: Writing Bisexual Characters will be taught by BiNet’s Faith Cheltenham from 3pm to 5pm Eastern Time. Writing Excuses listeners may use the promotional code “noexcuses” for a 25% discount, bringing the price from $110 to $82.50 (assuming Howard did this math correctly.)

Scholarship opportunities are also available.

Please follow the link above for details about the class, the instructor, the scholarships, and the technical requirements for online attendance. If you want to be notified about upcoming Writing The Other classes, be sure to subscribe to their mailing list.

12.2: How to Nail Character Voice in First Person

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley

This week we talk about character voice, and how to get it right in First Person. This POV is a strong tool for developing memorable characters. We cover sentence structure, linguistic tweaks, accents, and much more, as well as some exercises you can try out to develop these tools.

This week is also your introduction to our Chicago cast. You’ve already heard from Brandon and Mary; the new voices belong to Mary Anne Mohanraj and Wesley Chu.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Write a page or two of first-person POV in which the character is trying to complete a task. Now write that same task-completion scene from the POV of someone else who is attempting the task.

Perennial, by Mary Anne Mohanraj

WXR 2017 in the Baltic Sea

Hello, 2017! And hello to you, dear Writing Excuses listeners. We’ve already started our new year of episodes, which focuses on the nitty-gritty details of story structure and includes some exciting guest hosts, so check it out. Our other exciting announcement, of course, is the retreat. 2017 will be our fifth Writing Excuses Retreat, and the first that will take place in Europe:


Join us for a cruise in the Baltic Sea, July 28-August 5!


And registration is open now 🙂


The full details are available on the registration page, but here’s a quick overview:


1. We will board in Kiel, Germany, and spend a week at sea, stopping for excursions in Copenhagen, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and Tallin. If you’re flying in, the best airport is Hamburg, from which you can take a train to Kiel which is just an hour or so north. The event actually begins the day before we board, in a Kiel hotel, where we’ll register and get to know each other.


2. Prices are Double Occupancy, which means you’ll share your room with another person. If you bring your own roommate, awesome! If not, we’ll put you with another writer from our group. Spouses and significant others who want to come with you but are not writers will get a discounted rate. Children get a hugely discounted rate. Imaginary friends are FREE.


3. If you’ve never done one of our cruises before, they’re a kind of magical mix of class time, writing time, and screwing-around-in-a-cool-place time. We don’t know how it works, but it does, and you’ll love it.


4. We’ll have one or two classes a day, taught by our amazing guest instructors, as well as live Writing Excuses episodes with the hosts of the show. Brandon won’t be joining us this year, but be joined by Wes Chu, Piper Drake, Desiree Burch, John Berlyne, Aliette de Bodard, Jasper Fforde, Ken Liu, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Carsten Polzin, and more. And of course you’ll still have Mary, Dan, and Howard.


5. The classes will be taught in English, but we expect to have a lot of different languages represented, by both our students and instructors, and we will do everything we can to accommodate you.


6. Shore excursions will be scheduled through us. For each stop we’ll pick three “official” Writing Excuses excursions and announce them this Spring, so you can sign up with us for one of those and know that you’ll be with our same group of awesome writers and instructors. If you want to do an excursion that’s not one of our official picks, you can arrange it directly with the cruise.


7. This cruise has been arranged to line up with WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, August 9-13. If you want to attend WorldCon we have two options for the time between events: our travel agents can arrange for you to take a ferry from Kiel to Helsinki, where you can kill a few days in an awesome city, or you can join us for a three-day tour of some cool European castles.


8. As before, we will have a number of scholarships available. This year that number is “3.” The application process will be announced on January 15.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: I have a registration question. Should I leave a comment here?
A: The best way to contact us for WXR 2017 purposes is to use the “Contact Writing Excuses” link at the bottom of the Registration page. Scroll all the way down. It’s the last link in the FAQ there. We’d have linked it directly here, but it’s an embedded thingy.

Q: Brandon’s not going to be there? Does he not love us anymore?
A: Brandon is already spending a few weeks in Europe this year on tour, and there was no way for him to do both. In future years, there might be other hosts who can’t make it. You’ll still get an amazing writing conference with a ton of amazing instructors and classes and experiences. Plus, as all of our alumni will tell you, the single biggest benefit of the cruise are the connections you make with the other attendees, and this promises to be one of the best years ever for that. And yes, Brandon loves you with all his heart.


Q: Europe is so expensive! Can’t you just do a local thing?
A: Local is a funny word on the Internet. Writing Excuses has a lot of European listeners, and for them every other event we’ve done has been expensive, and this is the cheap one. If you can’t afford to take a week off and fly to Europe, believe us: we understand. We can’t either, unless it’s for a conference we’re running. Consider this a once-in-a-lifetime getaway or an anniversary trip or something, and if it’s still out of reach, don’t worry: next year we’ll be back in the US again, with a cruise we can’t tell you about yet but we really think you’re going to love.


Q: I’m an introvert who doesn’t do well in big groups of people. Will I survive an event like this?
A: One Of Us! One Of Us! Honestly, most of our attendees are introverts too, including all of the hosts and most of the guest instructors. Some of us are better at faking it than others, but we know where you’re coming from, and we feel your pain. We’ll make sure to have lots of quiet little hidey-holes all over the ship where you can go when it all gets too much. It’s not called a “retreat” for nothing.


Q: You keep saying it, but will I really have time to actually write while on this cruise?
A: You will definitely have time, but it’s up to you how to use it. We give prizes every year for the Most Words Written, and last year the winner had more than 40,000. We also have a proud history of boardgame nights, dancing, karaoke, and impromptu martial arts demonstrations. Whatever you want to do with your free time, you can probably do it at this event.

12.1: Variations on First Person

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard

We’re beginning a new season, and during 2017 we will be focusing our topics on structure. We are also going to shake things by expanding our cast a bit. You’ll be hearing some new voices soon! They belong to:

  • Wesley Chu
  • Piper J. Drake
  • Mary Anne Mohanraj

We’ll post more on that in a few days, but we’ve already begun updating our “About” page.

This week your hosts are Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. We spend a few minutes on the administrative stuff  above before jumping into January’s structural topic, the first person voice, with a discussion of the variations in how that POV is presented. We cover some of the different first person POV styles, what sorts of stories they’re often best-suited for, and how we go about writing them well.

Spoiler Alert: Episode 12.3 will feature Sandra Tayler, and is a Project In Depth on her story, “Risk Assessment,” which was illustrated by Natalie Barahona and Howard Tayler. It appears in Force Multiplication: Schlock Mercenary Book 12, available direct from Hypernode Media, or through Amazon.



Take something you’ve written, and put it in the three different forms of 1st person — reflective, epistolary, and immediate.

The Star-Touched Queen, by Roshani Chokshi, narrated by Priya Ayyar

11.52: Elemental Ensemble Q&A, With Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray joined us aboard Oasis of the Seas to answer our attendees questions about the Elemental Ensemble. Here are the questions:

  • Can you fit an ensemble into a short story?
  • What the minimum size for an ensemble? Is there a perfect length?
  • Can you put a traitor into an ensemble story?
  • How do I give my ensemble characters equal emotional weight if I only tell the story from a single POV?
  • How do you introduce your ensemble without infodumping?
  • If an ensemble is about falling in love with a group of friends, how does killing a character work?
  • How do you give every character a role in the climax without making it seem like the plot was cut to fit the team?

Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


A Million Worlds With You, by Claudia Gray, narrated by Tavia Gilbert