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 | January 11, 2015 - 8:01 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Season 10, Theory and Technique

Writing Excuses Season 10, the podcasted master-class, continues with this exploration of that critical second step: what do do once you’ve got an idea that has story-legs.

(Note: When we say “two weeks ago” over and over, that’s just bad math. You haven’t missed an episode.)

We talk about our various approaches to this, many of which center around finding the person or people who are most affected by the thing our idea conjures into their world, but that’s really only the very beginning of it.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Shipstar, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, narrated by Zach Villa

Writing Prompt: Using last week's five story ideas (or five new ones):

  • Take two of them and combine them into one story.
  • Take one and change the genre underneath it.
  • Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it
  • Take the last one and have a character make the opposite choice.

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By Writing Excuses | January 4, 2015 - 7:32 pm - Posted in Season 10, Uncategorized

Season 10 begins!

We wanted to do something different this year. Something special. As we brainstormed we kept returning to something a listener said years ago: “Writing Excuses is like a master class in writing genre fiction.”

That’s a generous remark, as anyone who’s taken an actual master class can attest, but it inspired us to ask ourselves what Writing Excuses would look sound like if it were formatted like an actual master class.

The answer? It would sound like Season 10 is going to sound. This year we’re going to go to school! Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits. We’ll still have some “wildcard” episodes with guests, but for at least three weeks out of each month we’re going to stay on topic. If you’re new to the podcast, this is where to start! If you’re an old hand, don’t worry — this isn’t a return to the 101-level stuff.

In January we’ll cover the very beginning — coming up with cool ideas, and wrapping them up into something that we can turn into a story. And for this first episode we’ll answer the dreaded “where do you get your ideas” question quite seriously. We’re not going to tell you about the Idea Factory in Schenectady (Harlan Ellison’s stock answer,) nor are we going to eye-roll. Nope. We’re going to tell you how we get our brains to think stuff up, and then we’re going to give you homework in the writing prompt.

We’ve talked about ideas before, of course, so here are some links:

 

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Lock In, by John Scalzi, narrated by Amber Benson OR Wil Wheaton (there are two versions of this audiobook.)

Writing Prompt: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From an interview or conversation you've had
  2. From research you've done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)
This exercise might not generate the very best ideas you've ever had, but it will definitely flex your idea muscles in new ways.    

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By Writing Excuses | September 14, 2014 - 8:17 pm - Posted in Career and Lifestyle, Guest, Live Audience, Q&A, Season 9, Theory and Technique

Peter Orullian joins us in front of a live audience at Westercon 67 for a Q&A. The questions include:

  • As a writer, how do you handle reviewing other people’s books?
  • How do you compartmentalize your writing to prevent that obsession from displacing everything else?
  • How do you create frightening, unique creatures?
  • What are the basics about networking at a convention?
  • Is there a yield for the average story idea?
  • What rules do you follow and what rules do you break when writing epic fantasy?
  • What can you do in critique groups to teach craft if you’re avoiding prescriptive critique?
  • How strongly do you believe that the audience won’t remember what you’ve told them, but will remember how you said it?

 

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Spellcaster by Claudia Gray, narrated by Khristine Hvam.

Writing Prompt: Write about a support group for writers.

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What are those things you already know, but which you might not be using in your writing? How do you identify those things and put them to work for you? Mette Ivie Harrison joins us for a discussion of how you might “hijack” (okay, “repurpose”) the knowledge you already have in order to make you a better writer. We hear a lot about the 10,000 hours of practice required to gain expertise in a given domain. It’s possible that you’ve already spent some of those 10,000 hours in activities that you didn’t realize were related.

Mette leads with her love of history. Mary directs us a bit with a metaphor from Jim Henson. Brandon talks about what is, by any other name, fanfic, and Howard talks about his degree in music composition. We also talk about how we leverage the knowledge we’re acquiring in other activities to flesh out the things we’re writing — in effect, letting that stuff serve as research without it being part of the actual research we do.

 

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dangerous Women, by George RR Martin, Gardner Dozois and several others (including Brandon Sanderson), narrated by a long A-list of voices.

Writing Prompt: Look at your own life. Take some skill, activity, or piece of esoteric knowledge that seems completely unrelated to your writing, and then incorporate it in the next thing that you write.

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By Writing Excuses | June 9, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Career and Lifestyle, Demonstration, Guest, Q&A, Season 8, Uncategorized

Microcasting! It’s what we’ve taken to calling a Q&A. Eric Patten joins us for this one. Here are the questions:

  • What’s your first step in the rewriting process?
  • How do you write Artificial Intelligences as characters?
  • Tactful promotion: how do you get nominated for a Hugo or Nebula?
  • How do you decide whether or not to take an offer from a publisher?
  • Do you use a writing notebook? How, and for what?
  • What methods do you use to test the “coolness” and/or viability of a story idea?
  • What genre or style do you read that is outside of the one(s) in which you write?
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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Red Storm Rising, by Tom Clancy, narrated by Michael Prichard

Writing Prompt: Two words: "Flying Caldecott."

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By Writing Excuses | June 2, 2013 - 5:20 pm - Posted in Guest, Season 8, Theory and Technique

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.

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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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The number one request we got when we asked you what you’d like us to talk about? Short story writing. Mary is our resident expert, and if she weren’t already a member of the cast, she’d our go-to expert for an interview. Convenient!

We begin by addressing the popular notion that writing short stories is a good way to practice for writing novels, and selling short stories is a way to break in and sell novels. We then return to the M.I.C.E. quotient (first addressed by us in 6.10) and discuss how the quotient (or model, or formula) helps you understand what to cut from the telling of a story to make it a short story.

Mary then walks us through her process for turning an idea into a story concept, and then distilling that concept into a short story. She also invites us to explore her 950-word short, “Evil Robot Monkey,” free of charge!

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Language of Moths, by Christopher Barzak, narrated by Paul Michael Garcia

Writing Prompt: Being "bi-textual" is a controversial lifestyle choice...

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By Writing Excuses | April 7, 2013 - 5:28 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Season 8

As if he needs the help, Brandon challenges Mary, Howard, and Dan to help him brainstorm an A.I. short story. Brandon hands them some setup, and off they go. The ground may have been well-tread in the past, but this particular brainstorming session is full of great ideas that incorporate religion, cargo cults, puzzles, and aliens…

The big challenge here is finding a tale that’s interesting enough and original enough to be worth the telling…

Mary’s Hugo-nominated Novella: “Kiss Me Twice” which appeared in Asimov’s.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dragonsinger: Harper Hall Trilogy Volume 2, by Anne McCaffrey, narrated by Sally Darling

Writing Prompt: Come up with a better resolution for this story than we did.

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In this episode Howard pitches three story ideas to the group, and they pick one to brainstorm. The selection process is itself educational (which is good, because it runs for a third of the ‘cast…)

The story selected is near-future science-fiction with extra-dimensional, magical elements. As the brainstorming continues, we grab some fun secret-history elements, and successfully deepen the conflict. We also learn that there are two stories here, and Howard has to choose which one of them to write.

And For Your Disappointment: As of this time the story laid out in this ‘cast remains unwritten, so you can’t read it.

But to Make Up For It: Howard got distracted and wrote a horror piece instead! Here is a sample! (Note: this wasn’t one of the pitches, but it DOES demonstrate that Howard really, really wanted to get out of his comfort zone.)

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Feedback, by Robison Wells, narrated by Michael Goldstrom

Writing Prompt: Pick a major event in history, and then write a secret history in which Death returns to take over.

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