By Writing Excuses | June 17, 2012 - 5:33 pm - Posted in Genre, Plot, Season 7, Style

Capers! They’re delicious on bagels with lox and cream cheese. Also, tricky to write well, and often called “heists.”

Dan explains the caper/heist format to us using Ocean’s Eleven as the model, so we can identify the key elements that are typically present. Brandon explains the key difference between the two styles: In the first, the reader doesn’t get the whole plan, and the plan goes off without a hitch. In the second, the reader gets the whole plan, but the plan goes wrong and the team has to improvise. Ocean’s Eleven is an example of the first. The Italian Job and Mission Impossible are examples of the second.

One challenge writers face, as opposed to filmmakers, is keeping the reader in the dark for an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper without cheating.

We talk about how the formation of a team of experts or specialists is critical to the form, but also works across lots of other forms. Beware using these teams as a substitute for character development, however.

The combined viewing time of our example films is, quite frankly, oppressive. Don’t watch them all in one sitting. But if you do, that was all part of our insidious plan to keep you busy while somebody else steals your stuff.

What is a Pig in a Poke: Basically, it’s a confidence scheme involving a substitution.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton, narrated by Michael Cumpsty

Writing Prompt: Your characters need to perform a reverse-heist, putting jewels into a safe without getting caught.

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By Writing Excuses | May 8, 2011 - 7:37 pm - Posted in Fantasy, Setting, World Building

Saladin Ahmed, Nebula- and Campbell-award nominee joins Brandon and Howard at Penguicon 9.0 in Troy, Michigan for a discussion of setting — specifically, setting an epic fantasy in something besides the traditional, Western European middle ages.

We talk about the importance of familiarity, and how we balance that against more exotic elements. Saladin offers us some tools and tricks for doing this. One of these is the “Daily Life In” series of books, research tools for authors wanting to leverage ancient Rome, Egypt, or other places in the creation of their settings. Yes, you might want to go out and buy a book or two after we’re done.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Inheritance Trilogy, Book 1, by N. K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Writing Prompt: Describe a food that is familiar to you from the point of view of a character who has never encountered it, nor anything like it.

Did You Hear Something Different? This episode marks the debut of our new digital mixer! We’re new to it, but so far it’s wonderful. Also, this is the third or fourth episode where Mary Robinette Kowal has voiced the sponsorship plug. Expect to hear a LOT more from her in Season Six…

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By Writing Excuses | March 27, 2011 - 7:08 pm - Posted in Guest, Live, Scenes

Dan and Howard are joined by Larry Correia and Robison Wells (Rob is the younger of the Wells brothers), and with the enthusiastic support of a live audience at LTUE they discuss writing action.

Larry’s books are made of action (and no small amount of gunplay.) Howard’s comics feature mercenaries (and sometimes elephants.) Robison’s latest book, Variant, doesn’t have any experienced fighters in it, but the characters still manage to get into action-oriented trouble. Dan’s action scenes are personal, visceral, and confusing. And so we talk about how we do it.

We also talk about how we’ve seen others do it in books and in film. We discuss the scene/sequel format, blocking, and how “write what you know” need not be an obstacle to writing about sword fighting against dragon. Or Howard’s dog.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia, narrated by Oliver Wyman

Writing Prompt: Write an action sequence that you can appropriately title “Flaming Slapfight.”

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By Writing Excuses | January 9, 2011 - 6:00 pm - Posted in Artwork, Genre, Howard, Humor, Plot

Last week we wormcanned “fulfilling promises to the reader,” so this week we’ll tackle the discussion using actual examples. We start with a deconstruction of The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, which Howard wrote and illustrated in 2008 and 2009. We then spoil the story of the game Borderlands, talking about the woefully-unfulfilled promise made to the player. We also spoil Legion for you, but that film kind of ruined itself. A lot. At any rate, in both of these latter cases we talk about the promises being broken.

Then we talk about how we, as writers, know when we’re making promises to the reader, and what those promises are.

Dan talks about how, in the first draft of I Am Not a Serial Killer, the main character won out in the wrong way, and how he had to go back and fix the ending. He also talks about the biggest complaint anybody has with that book, and how that stems from the plot twist that, to some readers, breaks a promise inherent in the book’s genre. And that leads us into a discussion of Million Dollar Baby and of the first outline of Mistborn, which could have had a very, very disappointing ending.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, narrated by Adam Grupper

Writing Prompt: Pick a typical promise that a child might make, and use that as the promise you’re making to your readers.

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By Writing Excuses | November 21, 2010 - 7:46 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Plot, POV, Structure

How do you write the second book? Zombie John Brown joins us for a discussion of that second novel.

(Note: As of this writing, John Brown remains NOT DEAD. Not UNDEAD, mind you. NOT DEAD. John D. Brown, author, is alive and well, and his nose is healing up quite nicely.)

We’ve got three possible approaches to take. The first is “your second unpublished novel.” The second is “your second published book.” The third is “the second book in a series.” All three of these are worth discussing, so of course we give the second one a wide miss.

We start with that second unpublished novel. This is the book where you move past the momentary validation of finishing the first novel, and sit down at the keyboard again. The lessons learned during the first novel are applied quickly. We talk about some of those lessons, and how they applied to each of us.

We then talk about the second book in a series. We look at what works well in sequels, in second acts, and subsequent installments in an ongoing series. We talk about the dangers of sequel-itis, especially as Hollywood suffers from it, and how we can avoid falling into these traps.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, narrated by Richard Ferrone

Writing Prompt: The growth on your nose… is it an alien, is it occult, or are you going to tell a love story?

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By Writing Excuses | October 31, 2010 - 5:10 pm - Posted in Characters, Plot

John Brown joins us this week for a discussion of plot threads specific to characters. These can be the main plot thread, interesting sub-plots, or just things that shape characters. Sometimes they’re things we do deliberately, and sometimes we discovery-write our way into these arcs. We talk about how we do this, and how we know when it is (and isn’t!) working well.

We ran a little long, but there were four of us, and we put LOTS of nuts-and-bolts stuff in this ‘cast.

Writing Prompt: Your cast of characters is trapped on an emotionally-responsive roller-coaster that mimics their own emotional arcs. How do they use this knowledge?

This Tuesday: John’s first novel, Servant of a Dark God, is out in paperback!

ALSO This Tuesday: The polls are open for you, you citizens of the United States! Go vote!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Simon Jones.

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By Writing Excuses | August 22, 2010 - 8:17 pm - Posted in Business, Characters, Editing, Ideas, Plot

Recorded live at Dragons & Fairy Tales, this episode is for anybody who has a novel or two (or more) sitting in the bottom of their trunk. What are the best ways to re-use old material you’ve set aside? We talk about rewriting entire novels, repurposing plots or characters, and moving stories from one place to another.

Sometimes we do this because an idea is just too good to let sit, but the execution on that idea (at least the first time around) wasn’t good enough. And sometimes we shouldn’t do it at all.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Feed by Mira Grant – it’s 1/3 zombie novel, 2/3 political thriller.

Writing Prompt: “Interspeciated workplace.” Go!

Prompt #2: You just got a “Cease & Desist” from a webcartoonist…

Audience Noises: Delivered on cue, thanks to cleverly positioned signs…

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By Writing Excuses | April 18, 2010 - 8:00 pm - Posted in Artwork

Isaac Stewart, the interior artist for the Mistborn books, joins Brandon and Howard for a discussion of the visual elements in our work, and how to make them cohere. We talk about the yellow ball-on-a-stick fiddly-bits in the Schlockiverse, and how they unify the hi-tech of that world. We talk about all the symbols Isaac drew as he tried to conveny with the visual sensibilities of the Mistborn world. And we explain how these and other examples of art and design unify the worlds we build and the stories we tell.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, narrated by Wil Wheaton and Kate Reading.

Writing Prompt: Sketch out a starship, with interesting features, and then work those features into your story.

Additional Plug, Just Because We Can: We mentioned XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery, by Tracy and Curtis Hickman. You can get it here, at Amazon, or at any hobby and game store.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.

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Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.

By Writing Excuses | December 13, 2009 - 11:30 pm - Posted in Characters, Narrator, Plot

This episode totally would have updated earlier if I’d only known sooner that it was ready to go. Jordo says he emailed me early this evening, but if he HAD then you’d have been listening to this by 8:00pm Sunday.

So… how much of that do you believe? Is the Narrator lying to you, or is he just wrong?  Maybe he is lying to himself, and thinks he’s being honest with you.

Most importantly, though, how does any of this apply to your writing? Well, that’s what the podcast is for…

Writing Prompt: Have an event occur, and then provide five different character perspectives on the event… none of which are completely accurate.

Note: this episode updated a little late because I wanted an object lesson in the write-up, not because I was relaxing on the couch until 11:15pm.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.