This month’s Master Class episodes focus on pacing, and we’re dividing the concept of pacing into two parts: the first is the sense of progress within the story, and the second is the sense of the passage of time. In this episode we tackle that first bit, and discuss how we communicate progress to the readers.

We talk a bit about the concept of “promises made to the reader,” which we covered in more detail during episode 10.14. You may want to refer back to that at some point.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu, narrated by Kevin T. Collins

Writing Prompt: The Magnified Moment: write two pages in which someone gets out of bed, walks across the room, and opens the door.

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We’re past the middle of the Season 10 Master Class, but we’re still in the middle of our month on middles. Perhaps some spectacular failures will help us all enjoy the middle a bit more as we write our way past it.

(Filed under: “I see what you did there.”)

(Filed also under: “spectacular failure.”)

Character failure is a big part of making the middle of a story work. We talk about why, and we provide some tips about how to make this work well for you.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Edge of the World: Terra Incognita, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by Scott Brick

Writing Prompt: "Yes, but/no, and..." Think of the smartest thing your character can do. Now have them fail with either "yes, but" (they technically succeed, but something else has gone wrong) or "no, and" (they fail, and the failure deepens the mess.)

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By Howard Tayler | May 10, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Season 10, Theory and Technique

What’s the difference between intrigue, suspense, and mystery? We answer this (it comes down to reader knowledge vs character knowledge), and then talk about what makes intrigue useful as a tool for any story, and how to use it without falling back on idiot character plots, or simply withholding information from the reader.

Intrigue is also its own genre, with spy stories and political intrigue stories fitting into this space. We talk a bit about how those stories work, and how they’re built.

Upcoming Homework: We’ll be doing a Project-In-Depth on Mary’s new book, Of Noble Family, in two weeks (episode 10.21, airing on May 24th.) To get the most out of that episode without having anything spoiled, pick up a copy now and start reading!

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: A Spy in the House: The Agency 1, by Y.S. Lee, narrated by Justine Eyre

Writing Prompt: Write dialog in which each of the speakers has a different subtext and motive. Without explicitly stating those, try and make them clear to the reader.

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By Howard Tayler | April 5, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Season 10

April is all about beginnings, at least as far as Season 10’s syllabus is concerned. So let’s start!

The cool stuff you plan to put in your story will need other stuff to set it up, and that setting up means that other stuff needs to come first. But how far down does that rabbit hole go?

In this episode we talk about how you can determine which elements of your story should come first. We also define (finally!) the term “promises” in the way we use it when we say “promises made to the reader,” and then we talk about how to figure out what promises we’re making.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu, narrated by Luke Daniels

Writing Prompt: Homework: Start writing your story! Write 500 words, focusing on just one of the promises you've identified for your story. Then stop, and start writing another 500 words with a different promise. Aaaand then do it a third time.

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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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M. Todd Gallowglas is a writer and a storyteller who has spent years doing traditional oral storytelling at renaissance fairs. He joined us at FantasyCon/Westercon 67 before a live audience and talked to us about how this tradition has informed his writing, and how these principles can inform our writing as well. He also schools us (okay, mostly Howard) about how these principles should be informing parts of our podcast.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl

Writing Prompt: Take the book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and drill down into the nitty-gritty realities of pancakes falling from the sky.

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By Writing Excuses | August 3, 2014 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Season 9, Theory and Technique

Let’s adjust sliders again! This episode references our sliding scales for characters, and this time around we’ll be talking about how proactive a character is. We also talk about the verb “protag.” Because protagging is what protagonists should do, especially later in our stories.

Our goal is to be able to consciously adjust a character’s level of proactivity in order to similarly adjust how engaging that character is for our audience. We talk about the techniques we rely on, and some of our favorite stories in which we’ve seen these techniques employed.

 

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, narrated by Diane Warren

Writing Prompt: Tie your protagonist up, and then have them protag their way forward in the story with nothing but dialog.

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SPOILER ALERT!

This is our fourth and final SHADOWS BENEATH story critique episode. This episode’s story, “An Honest Death,” by Howard Tayler, is available as part of the aforementioned Writing Excuses anthology, pictured there on the right, which includes the the draft we critiqued in this episode along with the final version.

We still have a few of the first-printing hardcovers left, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the electronic edition at no additional charge.

This week we find Howard in trouble. He is, in a word, stuck.

Can our heroes help him? Can special guest Eric James Stone lend enough of his special guest expertise to complete the rescue?

We start with a discussion of what was working, so that Howard doesn’t accidentally “fix” something that isn’t broken. Then we wade into the weeds and go hunting for the pieces he needs in order to finish the story. And when we say “the weeds,” we’re talking serious wandering. The episode runs a full half-hour long…

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Writing Prompt: You have, with actual paint, painted yourself into an actual corner. But the paint and the corner are in a world in which there is magic, and "you painted yourself into a corner" may very well be some sort of a spell.

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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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Joel Shepherd joined Brandon, Mary, and Howard before a live audience at GenCon Indy to talk about writing hard science fiction where the science in question is social science. He’s studied international relations, interned on Capitol Hill, and is working a PhD in the field. His books reflect this background.

If hard science fiction is an exploration of what is technically, physically possible given a set of circumstances, hard social science fiction is no different. Further than that, however, good research in the social sciences will allow an author to build complex and realistic plots, stories in which character motivations go much further than picking a side.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Crossover: Cassandra Kresnov Book 1, by Joel Sheperd, narrated by Dina Pearlman

Writing Prompt: Pick two people on the same side of a conflict, but give them completely different motivations for fighting on that side.

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