We close June’s Master Class episodes in the usual manner, with a Q&A from our listeners and followers on Twitter.

  • How do you “Show, don’t tell” a character’s thoughts?
  • How do you describe a character’s appearance when they’re in their own POV?
  • What’s the difference between scene and setting?
  • How does your writing environment affect the scene you’re writing?
  • Can an evocative fantasy setting be described effectively in a short story?

 

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind, narrated by Sean Barrett

Writing Prompt: Next month's episodes focus on middles. Go to a friend and describe to that friend why the middle of your book is going to be awesome. Not the beginning, not the ending... the middle.

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By Howard Tayler | April 12, 2015 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Guest, Season 10, Theory and Technique

Wes Chu, author and adventurer, recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and has some things to say about all the wilderness trekking that our characters do in the books we write, and how we often forget to say anything about sleeping on inclines, altitude sickness, or packing toilet paper. More importantly, we need to remember that our characters are experiencing these wilderness treks, and have opinions about them.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week:

The Rebirths of Tao, by Wesley Chu, isn't available yet on Audible, but the first book in the trilogy, The Lives of Tao is.

Writing Prompt:

Wes has a tough writing exercise for us: take something that you've already written, swap the personalities of your protagonist and antagonist, and re-write a scene from the story.

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By Writing Excuses | August 10, 2014 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Career and Lifestyle, Q&A, Season 9, Theory and Technique

Microcasting!

It’s our Q&A format, in which each answer is like its own, tiny little podcast, only without its own unique URL, intro, writing prompt, or any of the other trappings that would actually make it different from a Q&A session.

Right. So, it’s basically just a Q&A.

Listen to the podcast for the answers… Here are the questions:

  • Are there biases against non-English writers submitting manuscripts in English?
  • What is the most difficult thing Howard experienced when first creating Schlock Mercenary?
  • Are you ever too old to try to get published?
  • What are some pointers for keeping a milieu story focused on the setting?
  • No, you can’t have a sample of our DNA. None of you.
  • If you were to rewrite your early work, what would you change?
  • How do you improve your proofreading and copy editing?
  • How much time do you spend writing each day? Does it matter WHAT you write during that time?
  • Do you add foreshadowing in the editing stage, or are you just that good?
  • How do you improve your craft as a writer?
  • I don’t have time to ask a question, I’m washing my dog.
  • Do you have any writing exercises that you do regularly?
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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Attack the Geek, by Michael R. Underwood, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Prompt: Introduce a random element--dice, coin-tosses, the i ching--and write a story in which you (the writer) commit to letting the random element make the decisions.

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By Writing Excuses | February 23, 2014 - 10:10 pm - Posted in Season 9

Eric James Stone and the Wilhelm Scream join us for a talk about “handwavium,” that stuff that you use instead of through-and-through hard science. It’s that part where you wave your hand and say “don’t pay too much attention to this bit.”

When does it fail, though? When is it good enough? Like so many other things, this hinges upon whether or not the reader is knocked out of the story by implausibility. We talk about post-trans-uranics, reversing the polarity, inertial dampeners, and internal consistency. We also talk about how we, as writers, make our decisions regarding handwavium.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Incrementalists, by Stephen Brust and Skyler White, narrated by Ray Porter and Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Prompt: Write some technobabble that explains how turtles have hyperspace.

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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

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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 | June 30, 2013 - 5:55 pm - Posted in Season 8, Theory and Technique

This week’s episode covers the perjoratively-named sub-genre, space opera. These are adventure stories in which the setting is futuristic, but in which the science is secondary. The lines are blurry, as they are with any definition of genre, but we’re pretty sure that Howard writes space opera.

A possible definition? Space Opera is when the author uses science to justify the cool stuff he or she has come up with.

We talk about the decisions that go into writing a space opera, how Howard has gone about it, and what you might focus on in order to write a compelling, adventurous romp.

Pithy Howardism: “If I pee far, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold, narrated by Grover Gardner

Writing Prompt: Posit a faster-than-light drive that nobody else has thought of. Or at least that you haven't heard of.

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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 | March 24, 2013 - 3:57 pm - Posted in Project in Depth, Season 8

Brandon, Dan, and Mary interview Howard about how he assembled “Deus ex Nauseum,” the bonus story that appears at the end of Schlock Mercenary: Emperor Pius Dei.

Howard begins with the story’s genesis, which was sort of a science-fiction Sherlock Holmes story, but which wasn’t working very well. He explains why it wasn’t working well, and the point at which he decided to change it completely.

Then the questions begin. We have a fascinating discussion about deus ex machina as a literary device, and how this story plays to that type, and plays against that type.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams with stories by Robert J. Sawyer, Christopher Roden, Michael Moorcock, Anne Perry, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Burgess, and Laurie R. King, narrated by Simon Vance and Anne Flosnik.

Writing Prompt: Take one story and discard every other page. Use that as framing material for a second story.

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By Writing Excuses | February 3, 2013 - 9:35 pm - Posted in Season 8, Theory and Technique

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.

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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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By Writing Excuses | January 13, 2013 - 4:00 pm - Posted in Season 8, Theory and Technique

Beowulf didn’t kill Grendel on a day trip, Luke didn’t overthrow Emperor Palpatine in just one season, and here at Writing Excuses, we didn’t get around to properly discussing the Hero’s Journey until we were well into the second decade of this century.

Sorry about that.

The Campbellian Monomyth, as defined in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, is a system of comparative mythology that, for better or for worse, gets used a lot by writers. We talk about some of our favorite examples, and immediately begin arguing over terms. Hopefully this is delightful to you, and educational for everyone. Especially since the monomyth is not a checklist, and it should not be taken that way.

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Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: At the time we recorded this, Hero With a Thousand Faces was available on Audible. It's not anymore. So... go find something else educational?

Writing Prompt: Take Goldilocks and the Three Bears, apply the Campbellian Monomyth, and give us a short story.

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