This is for you folks who started writing the story before you finished building your world. Which is what we wanted you to do all along! Sneaky! We’re talking about letting your story drive your world building efforts, so that you can be more efficient.

We cover some of the tools that we use, as well as when world building fits into, then out of, and then back into our respective processes.

Out of Context Quote: “Sometimes you just need to take the underpants off the puppet.”

Other Worldbuilding Episodes to Reference: Brandon promised a list of links. Here’s a pretty comprehensive one!

We recommend not listening to all of them in one go. You’re supposed to be out of excuses and writing, not podcast diving for another two hours…

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Stormdancer: The Lotus War, Book One, by Jay Kristoff, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Writing Prompt: Pick your gee-whiz, whatever it may be, and describe it in 150 words from ten different perspectives. Yes, that's 1500 words.

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By Writing Excuses | March 8, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Guest, Q&A, Season 10, Theory and Technique

Wesley Chu joins us for a literal shake-up of our structure for one episode. We had loads of fun with this one.

The I Ching is a collection of poems which you consult with numbered sticks. You ask a question, shake a random stick from the cup, and the corresponding poem holds your answer. In writing The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick used the I Ching to make plot decisions at crucial points. We decided to turn that, and our format, on its head, so we used the I Ching to ask us questions.  Understanding exactly what the I Ching was asking was at least as much fun as answering the questions we inferred.

Here are the I Ching’s questions.

  • Although he reached a great position, Wise Liu did not care for earthly things. He brewed instead the pills of heaven, forging immortality in his earthly crucible.
  • Marriage is a blessed union indeed, when done in accordance with Yin and Yang. The dragon and the phoenix coil together, uniting in a sweet dream of love.
  • All names in Heaven are unique, and even earthly things cannot be the same. Your future is set within the book of fate, which never confuses praise and blame.
  • Emperor Ming slew his one true love, but a shaman took pity, and eased his heart with dreams of roaming upon the moon, his beloved mistress forever at his side.
  • Two scholars went to the capitol for examinations. One passed, and stayed. One failed and returned, carrying a letter from his friend. He fell ill, but eventually, thank Heaven, came home.

 

Important Cultural Note: The I Ching is far more complex than we’ve been able to describe in this podcast, and is worthy of a lot more attention than we were able to present to you in this ‘cast.

Want more Wes Chu? Wes didn’t say a whole lot in this episode, possibly because he was exhausted from the grilling we gave him earlier. This episode was recorded directly it AFTER recording a guest episode with him that will be airing in coming weeks.

Audio Notes: Many of you have complained about the audio quality of the show, especially in the last few months. We went to significant additional effort and expense to make this latest set of sessions sound better. If you like the changes, please let us know.

 

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, which was available on Audible when we recorded this episode, but which is NOT available as of this write-up.

Writing Prompt: Competing fiercely to become Spring's queen, the garden flowers blossomed to their full beauty. Who will win the golden crown of glory? Among them all, only the peony stands out.

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By Writing Excuses | March 1, 2015 - 9:05 pm - Posted in Season 10, Theory and Technique

This month’s syllabus topic is story structure, and we’ll be starting with the part we start with. And that part usually isn’t the beginning — that’s where the story starts for the reader. We’re going to talk about where the story starts for you. It’s the answer to questions like “where is my story coming from?”, “What kind of a story is this?”, or  “What questions does it seek to raise, and subsequently answer for the readers?”

Structurally, it may help to revisit our discussion of the M.I.C.E. quotient. Knowing that your story is primarily a milieu story, as opposed to a character story, is a pretty big thing to know before you start writing.

Of course, if you’re not outlining, this whole discussion may seem irrelevant to you, but ultimately if you discovery-write your way into a good story, you’ll have answered these questions during that process. Knowing that this is a thing you do will likely help you do it better.

The Sherlock Episode Howard referenced was “The Sign of Three”

Homework For an upcoming “Project in Depth” — you may wish to acquire a copy of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, because we’ll be digging into the bonus story, “Parallel Perspectives,” which plays with POV in some ways that required significant re-writing during the collaboration process.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie, narrated by Celeste Ciulla. This book has won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Clarke award, and is a great listen. (note: In the 'cast, Mary says that this book was narrated by Adjoa Andoh, who actually narrated Ancillary Sword.)  

Writing Prompt: Take a favorite piece of of media (but not something YOU created,) and reverse engineer an outline from it.

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By Writing Excuses | January 25, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Q&A, Season 10, Theory and Technique

At the Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat we premiered the Season 10 concept, and we invited our attendees to give us the questions we need this month. (They’ll also be the ones providing our questions for February, but we’ll cast our net wide for questions in March.)

  • Ideas are hard! Is it ever acceptable for inexperienced writers to write derivative works?
  • How do you keep from being discouraged when something similar to your idea comes out?
  • How do you know when your idea is a novel, vs. when it’s a short story?
  • Should you only write for themed anthologies if you already have an idea ready in that theme?
  • How can you practice description when your idea is set someplace completely unfamiliar to you?
  • When should you abandon an idea you love?

Liner Notes: We talked about novel-length vs short-story-length ideas in Season 6, Episode 10 when we covered the M.I.C.E. quotient, and again in Season 8, Episode 20, when Mary talked about short story structure. Also, the anthology into which Howard was drafted on the basis of a spur-of-the-moment idea is Shared Nightmaresand his story is called “U.I.”

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett, narrated by Alma Cuervo

Writing Prompt: Take one of the ideas you're excited about, and then audition five different characters for the lead role in that story. Make sure they're all different from each other.

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By Writing Excuses | December 7, 2014 - 7:09 pm - Posted in Career and Lifestyle, Q&A, Season 9, Theory and Technique

If there’s a crowd with good questions, it’s the Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat attendees.

  • Given the trend toward moral ambiguity, is there still a place for an unquestionably evil character?
  • Should you publish a first book that isn’t in the style or genre that you’re ultimately interested in?
  • Is it possible to write epic fantasy with a single POV?
  • Of all of the myriad talents of the literary agents you work with, what’s the one that makes you stick with your agent?
  • How do you maintain your writing chops when you’re buried in the research phase of a project?
  • What are some issues a short story writer should be aware of when tackling a novel?
  • How do you go about discovery writing characters?
  • When you build a story, does the foreshadowing go in during the first pass, or in later edits?

Our sponsor, Audible, is giving away Legion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson between now and December 24th. Follow that link and get a free audio book!

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway, narrated by Daniel Weyman

Writing Prompt: "Everywhere I look, everyone is covered with ketchup."

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By Writing Excuses | April 16, 2014 - 8:55 am - Posted in Season 9, Theory and Technique

What do you do when the ending you’ve planned won’t be emotionally satisfying? You know, when you’ve discovered during the course of writing the story that you’re making promises to the reader that this particular ending won’t keep?

Mary talks about her recent experience with this exact problem in an as-yet-unpublished project. Howard talks about how he had to come up with a new set of concluding moments for Longshoreman of the Apocalypse (which you can read for free here.) Dan weighs the difficulties he’s having with a current project, and how he had to brainstorm what the story was supposed to be accomplishing, rather than simply what the plot was.

We examine the various tools that we use to solve this problem, which probably offers you some motivation to keep filling your own toolbox.

 

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Vortex: Insignia, Book 2, by S.J. Kincaid, narrated by Lincoln Hoppe (Small world! Howard worked with Lincoln Hoppe twenty years ago, running sound for The Garrens Comedy Troupe while Lincoln was on stage being funny and amazing. You should let Lincoln read to you!)

Writing Prompt: Take a story you've already written, and write a completely different ending for it.

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By Writing Excuses | March 16, 2014 - 9:48 pm - Posted in Career and Lifestyle, Guest, Q&A, Season 9, Theory and Technique

Microcasting! It’s what we call our Q&A episodes, because they’re like multiple mini-casts. Eric James Stone joins us to help out. Here are the questions we field:

  • Should a pantser rewrite their book once they know the whole story?
  • What do you find most useful from an editor?
  • Story creation is cool, but can Writing Excuses talk more about sentence-level work?
  • What advice do you have for pitching to agents and editors?
  • What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
  • How do you encourage a writer-friend who is down on their work?

Give episode 9.11 a listen for our answers.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker, by Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon, narrated by Ray Porter

Writing Prompt: Something magical is preventing your friend from pursuing their dreams, but you don't know what it is...

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By Writing Excuses | December 1, 2013 - 3:01 pm - Posted in Season 8, Theory and Technique

Recorded live at GenCon Indy, Sam Logan of Sam & Fuzzy joins Brandon, Mary, and Howard to talk about long-form storytelling. Sam’s webcomic has been running for eleven years now, and has evolved over time into something of an epic.

Sam talks to us about how he got started, and how the strip morphed from its gag-a-day origins into what it is today (is this similar to what happened with Howard and Schlock Mercenary? Maaaaaybe.) He also talks about his planning process, and the manner in which he structures the smaller stories to fit inside the larger ones.

If you’re looking for a good starting point for Sam and Fuzzy, Sam says that point is right here.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Feed, by M. T. Anderson, narrated by David Aaron Baker

Writing Prompt: Go for a walk. Think about what you're writing while you walk. Don't do that Facebook or Twitter thing while you walk. Just walk, and think.

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At the time this podcast airs, Jeph Jacques’ Permanence project on Kickstarter has just nine days left. Jeph joined us at GenCon Indy to talk discovery writing with Brandon, Mary, and Howard, and yes, we totally agreed to plug his rock-and-roll side-gig in exchange.

Jeph Jacques is best known for Questionable Content, and by way of disclosure, Brandon has been a QC fan for years. He’s a discovery writer, and he has written himself into more than one corner. We ask him how far ahead he works, how he develops an idea, and especially how he fixes things if his discovery writing has taken him someplace he needs to get back out of.

His first step is to admit that he is, in fact, stuck in a corner. One of his tricks is a tool any of you can use in any project, Oblique Strategies, in which a random phrase (drawn from a deck of cards, or generated for you on the web) challenges you to rethink the spot that your story is in.

Obviously there’s more to it than that, but this? This is not where you’ll find the transcript. Transcripts end up here.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks, narrated by Peter Kenny

Writing Prompt: Go back to whatever you wrote most recently and come up with a different solution for the scene, changing the emotional beat of the scene.

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We recorded this episode in front of our live audience at the first-ever Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat. Here are the questions (you’ll have to listen for the answers):

  • To Dan: How did you go about selling your first trilogy in Germany before selling it in the US
  • To Howard: did you consider doing a separate storyline on Sunday strips? Why or why not?
  • Have you transitioned between outlining and discovery writing?
  • To Brandon: Why is John Scalzi your evil nemesis?
  • To Dan and Howard (and Mary): When you had full-time work, what did you do to “reset” when you came home from work, especially since your job used the same parts of your brain that writing does?

A Humble Suggestion for the Name of John Scalzi’s Next Band: Neil Gaiman’s Eagle Balls

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Human Division, by John Scalzi, narrated by William Dufris. (We were told that Wil Wheaton would be narrating this, but according to Audible the narrator is William Dufris.)

Writing Prompt: Someone is doing a puppetry move so extreme they end up hospitalized.

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