By Writing Excuses | March 30, 2014 - 5:11 pm - Posted in Characters, Season 9

We talk about characters a lot, which is fitting since character are what make things go in most of our favorite books. Brandon introduces a new model for examining characters in which three primary attributes – Competence, Proactivity, and Sympathy – are contrasted. We treat each one as if controlled by a fader or slider, like on a mixing console, and we look at what the relative positions of those sliders do to a character.

It’s only a model, obviously, and it’s not how we go about starting a character, but it has proven useful in troubleshooting characters who aren’t accomplishing the story purposes we want them to accomplish.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Killing Moon: Dreamblood, Book 1, by N.K. Jemisin, narrated by Sarah Zimmerman

Writing Prompt: Come up with a race of creatures in which there is a sum which you're not allowed to push past, and you have sliders on these people that control their attributes.

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By Writing Excuses | March 9, 2014 - 7:58 pm - Posted in Characters, Season 9

Nancy Fulda joins us for a discussion of engaging characters. We begin by explaining how engaging characters don’t need to be sympathetic, but certainly can be, and then we head into why we find particular characters engaging. We also talk about how this plays into the villain problem, where the villain is more interesting than the hero is.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn, narrated by Marc Thompson. Note also the free excerpt of the "Behind the Scenes" recording, featuring Timothy Zahn and his editor, Betsy Mitchell.

Writing Prompt: Put a character in a difficult situation, and then throw away your first three ideas for how they're going to get out of that situation.

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By Writing Excuses | September 8, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, POV, Season 8

After a quick, two-and-a-half-minute announcement about Writing Excuses winning the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Related Work, we get on with the topic at hand…

How do you go about transitioning characters in relative prominence during the course of a series? This might include fading a main character into the background, or drawing a side character into focus as the protagonist.

Howard talks about doing this in Schlock Mercenary, and how readers have reacted. Dan discusses doing this in the John Cleaver books, and what was required to make that work. Brandon tells us about Spook in the Mistborn trilogy, and why it was critical to the story for him to come to prominence. Mary explains that this shift is something that happens anytime there’s a POV shift.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Writing Prompt: Take a minor character from a story you've already completed, and tell their story.

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By Writing Excuses | August 18, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Live Audience, POV, Season 8, Setting

How do you help your readers relate to the non-human characters in your fiction?

The first question to answer is why you’re putting non-human characters in the piece to begin with. What are your goals for that race, culture, or whatever? Once you know that, you can begin addressing the challenge of helping the reader relate.

We talk about our strategies, and we cover examples from Iain Banks’ Look to Windward, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and of course from our own work, including Kiss Me Twice, I Am Not a Serial Killer, and The Body Politic.

Immediately Discarded Negative Example, Because the Rathole is Just Too Deep: The 1977 Star Wars Christmas Special

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Thief of Time: Discworld, Book 26, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

Writing Prompt: Depict a conversation between members of a non-human species who do something besides talk.

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By Writing Excuses | July 28, 2013 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Season 8

What’s a reluctant character? Well, it’s somebody who needs to be dragged along into the adventure, somebody who isn’t the sort of self-motivated, go-getter that we so often populate our books with. These characters feel a lot like real people — our world is full of folks like this. The trick lies in making these characters interesting to read.

We offer some examples from things we’ve read, some general structural tricks, and some of the tools we’ve used in our own work, including examples from Glamour in Glass, The Way of Kings, and The Hollow City.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Celebromancy, by Michael R. Underwood, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal, who gets to make a light-saber noise as part of the narration...

Writing Prompt: Create a character who is either weak or reluctant, determine why they are weak or reluctant, and then write the decision point.

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By Writing Excuses | July 7, 2013 - 5:51 pm - Posted in Characters, Live Audience, Outlining, Pacing, Scenes, Season 8, Structure

What determines our chapter breaks? How do we handle POV shifts, scene-sequel balance, and other considerations when we’re carving our stories into chapters?

Dan starts with a discussion of the POV considerations in Fragments and in Ruins (from the Partials series,) and Brandon contrasts that with some of the epic fantasy methods. We argue the respective merits and pitfalls of rapid switching and large blocks, and then we talk about how the chapters take shape during our outlines and initial drafts.

Episode Trivia: This was the first episode we recorded at the Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat, and was the first time in a year that the four of us had been together to record. So rusty!

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan, narrated by Christian Rodska

Writing Prompt: Outline a two-character plot arc, and then break it into chapters. Experiment with big blocks and little blocks of POV in this chapter-chopped outline, and consider how this will affect the arc.

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E.J. “Eric” Patten joins us for a discussion of pre-writing. His first book, Return to Exile, came out in 2011, and The Legend Thief released in March of 2013.

What is pre-writing? Eric walks us through his process for developing a story, beginning with the high-concept world-building inspired by the phrase “Cthulhu for kids.” He talks about the importance of getting the characters right, and how this process precedes plot development. Each of us handles this a little differently, and we talk about how that goes.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: E.J. Patten's books aren't available on Audible, but if you're looking for Cthulhu that isn't for kids, H.P. Lovecraft's classics "Call of Cthulhu" and "Reanimator" can be found in H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 2, narrated by Garrick Hogan.

Writing Prompt: Kids get magical powers from their Halloween costumes...

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By Writing Excuses | May 26, 2013 - 8:56 am - Posted in Characters, Dialog, Pacing, Scenes, Season 8

We here at Writing Excuses enjoyed Marvel’s The Avengers. This isn’t a movie review, though. This is a discussion of what the movie did right from a writer’s standpoint. The things we focus on?

  • Dialog and character voice
  • Balanced handling of an ensemble of main characters
  • Scenes that serve more than one function
  • Pacing

Obviously there will be some spoilers here. The film is available for rental now, so you might consider watching it again with this podcast and these points in mind. And generally speaking, it’s a good exercise for writers to look at movies (or books, or comics, or whatever) that they enjoy, and then attempt to identify the reasons those things were enjoyable.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, narrated by David Colacci

Writing Prompt: Take an ensemble cast, and have them fighting each other as a prelude to fighting what needs to be fought. Alternatively? "Hulk smash."

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By Writing Excuses | March 17, 2013 - 8:55 pm - Posted in Characters, Guest, Research, Season 8

Robison Wells joins us again, this time to help us with a discussion of writing characters with abnormal psychology. What are our resources for describing these characters in compelling, believable ways? What are the tricks, the pitfalls, and the landmines.

Brandon frames the discussion with some terms from his abnormal psych class, but let’s lay down a caveat right now: none of us are experts in abnormal psych. We have done lots of research in lots of different fields, we all love learning things, but we’re not doctors.

And that’s where you need to start — love learning, and research this heavily. This is an exercise in “writing the other.” Rob helps us with this research by describing what’s going on with his panic disorder, giving us helpful insight into the sorts of details we’ll need to make any mentally ill character believable.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman, who also narrates.

Writing Prompt: Take Rob's explanation of what it feels like to be him, and write a character from that POV.

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By Writing Excuses | February 3, 2013 - 9:35 pm - Posted in Characters, Dialog, magic, POV, Sci-fi, Season 8, Setting

Oh yeah, it’s time to break some rules! We’ve said that you’ve got to learn the rules before you break them, but here, eight seasons in, you probably already know them. So let’s make with the breaking!

We talk about some of the rules we’ve broken, and some of our favorite broken rules in other people’s work. We also talk about why any of us got away with it.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Holes, by Louis Sachar, narrated by Kerry Byer

Writing Prompt: Here is a rule for rule-breaking: The best format for experimenting with rule-breaking is the short. So! Pick your three favorite rules and break all three in a short story.

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