By Writing Excuses | June 1, 2014 - 6:20 pm - Posted in Sci-fi, Season 9, World Building

Can you use a character with a limited viewpoint to introduce a reader to the fantastic elements of the world you’re building? Even if from that character’s point of view, those elements are not fantastic? In short, how do you get a fish to tell you about water?

This question came from a listener, and before we set about attempting to answer it, we need to establish that this is really difficult. It is one of the grand achievements of well-written genre fiction. There are lots of hacks we use to get around the problem, but what we try to do in this cast is answer the question without any of those tricks. Of course, we also want to cover the hacks, because we use them.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Extraordinary Zoology: Tales from the Monsternomicon, Vol. 1, by Howard Tayler, narrated by Scott Aiello

Writing Prompt: Come up with a really nifty, high-tech setting, and then present it using POV characters who have no idea how all these wonders work, and who take them for granted.

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By Writing Excuses | April 27, 2014 - 8:50 pm - Posted in Career, Dialog, Editing, Fantasy, magic, Season 9, World Building

Microcasting! A Q&A by any other name. Here are the questions we fielded:

  • Can I have a rule-based magic system and a mystical system in the same universe?
  • What are your pre-writing methods? (Can of worms — it’s going to get its own episode)
  • What’s the first thing you do once the first draft is done?
  • When approaching real-world issues, how do you avoid being preachy?
  • What’s the best advice you can offer to someone who’s just starting to write?
  • Does it help you to experiment with weird narrative styles?
  • What are your least favorite tropes?
  • Should you fully edit your first few “practice” books?
  • How do you know if you’re writing too quickly?
  • How do you tell the difference between a weakness in your craft, and a story that requires stylistic rule-breaking?

 

In other news, Writing Excuses Season 8 has been nominated for the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Related Work. We’re thrilled to appear on the ballot, and are excited to be in such good company there.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Martian, by Andy Weir, narrated by R.C. Bray

Writing Prompt: Paranormal fantasy: We've had enough of vampire and werewolf romances. Give us a protagonist who falls in love with a shoggoth.

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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.

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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By Writing Excuses | December 12, 2012 - 10:06 am - Posted in Demonstration, Plot, Season 7, Setting, World Building

We try. We really do. But sometimes, in our efforts to make sure we’ve got a large enough queue of episodes to keep you edutained and entercated, we get things out of order. Badly.

Our last two episodes (49 and 50) made reference to this one, which was recorded before they were, and many of you were confused. We were even confused! But enough about the behind-the-scenes recording process. On with the episode!

Mary pitches us three story sketches, and we pick one to brainstorm. This, by the way, is also how Mary works with her agent. After the pitches, we select the one that doesn’t have much of a story yet.

And then it’s a brainstorming session. If you’ve ever wondered where we (or anybody else) gets their ideas, and more importantly, how they refine them, this is a must-listen.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Writing Prompt: In a setting in which magnetic fields are dramatically different between locations, give us a story about traveling between those locations.

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By Writing Excuses | March 11, 2012 - 6:43 pm - Posted in Business, Career, Editing, Genre, Plot, Q&A, Season 7, World Building

It’s again time for us to do a Q&A by any other name!

  • Is it better to include romance, horror, SF, or other genre elements to flesh out a story, or should the story stand alone?
  • Any tips for developing an idea without getting caught in Worldbuilder’s Disease?
  • Any NaNo WriMo tips? (yes.)
  • What did you to do build an audience before you got published and famous and stuff?
  • How do you create sub-plots without overshadowing the main plot?
  • What are the most important things you learned as writers during 2011?
  • How do you stay motivated (especially during editing) when it seems like everything you wrote is crap?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Note that there are lots of available recordings. We recommend something unabridged, like the version linked here.

Writing Prompt: Listener Bill Housely provided this one—a lone woman who runs an orbital refueling post makes first contact when some aliens arrive in desperate need of fuel.

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By Writing Excuses | January 15, 2012 - 5:45 pm - Posted in Season 7, Uncategorized

Animals and plants, round two! We begin this episode with examples where we think people did their flora and fauna wrong, or poorly, or at least in ways we can poke easy holes in. Our examples include:

  • Pitch Black
  • Twilight
  • Avatar
  • And then we get tired of negative examples, and talk about The Mote in God’s Eye.
We then attempt to brainstorm some flora and fauna on our world of mutagenic meteor dust. Pizza-trees, armored buffalo, fire-dandelions, and more… and that’s before we even get started populating the coast, and Brandon calls can-of-worms on the project and hands the brainstorming to you, the listener.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudniki. It's a fantastic example of well-constructed flora and fauna, and it's also a good example of how to make a sequel almost completely unlike the book that came before it.

Writing Prompt: Populate Excustoria's coast with some magically, meteorically mutated life.

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By Writing Excuses | January 8, 2012 - 10:13 pm - Posted in Season 7, World Building

Let’s build the plants and animals for your science fiction or fantasy book!

We begin with a discussion about naming, and about deciding how much evolutionary biology to put into creating cool beasties. We also talk about planning a food chain, building around water, and considering other resources (especially wood, for growing fantasy civilizations.)

Other considerations include migration patterns, life-cycles, and the possibility of turning the whole thing on its head.

We offer examples from Dune, Legacy of Heorot, Inherit the Stars, Ender’s Game, and other places. And if you’re looking for resources, check out Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge, narrated by Peter Larkin

Writing Prompt: Take a horrible, hard-to-domesticate animal, and then create a culture in which somebody has figured out how to domesticate these beasties.

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By Writing Excuses | December 4, 2011 - 4:54 pm - Posted in Demonstration, Fantasy, Setting, World Building, Writing Prompt

It’s the Writing Excuses Fantasy Setting Yard Sale!

In this experimental (at least for us) ‘cast, Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard build a couple of fantasy settings for you, and they’re free. Seriously. TAKE THEM.

We start our world-building with an unusual way for someone to obtain magical powers. We ended up with space-dust. We then head into what these powers do, and again we look for something unusual. We picked mutation. Then we start applying limitations: astrological, alchemical, and geological.

Our second pass (we’re giving away more than one of these!) began with cultural elements. We toy with how political power is granted, and end up with some neat linguistic bits, puerile humor, dance steps, ambidexterity, and a callback to the earlier puerility.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Writing Prompt: This whole episode is one big writing prompt, and you need one because NaNoWriMo is over, but that’s no excuse to not write. You’re out of excuses, as we’ve told you on more than one occasion. Write!

Puerility: “Fart joke.”

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Let’s talk commo! How does the ubiquity of communication tech affect your story? How far out of your own experience do you need to step in order to build a culture whose communications are believable?

We talk about the Great Wall of China, Napoleon’s visual semaphore, the Brin P2P Plan, and cell-phones in the X-files. Our goal? To get you to think about how the people in your stories communicate with each other, and how those communications can fail whether you’re writing fantasy or science-fiction.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson, narrated by Jonathan Davis.

Errata: The Ringworld is not 93 million miles in diameter. That was the approximate radius. Also, Howard got the circumference wrong. If only we’d had instant access to some sort of database, some network of computational resources while we were recording this episode…

Writing Prompt: Start with a fax machine, make it a 3d-printer/prototyper, and run from there…

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Okay, let’s have some fun. Not that we weren’t having fun for the previous 150+ episodes, mind you. But this is extra-fun.

Brandon, Dan, and Howard take the urban fantasy writing prompt about big-box stores and decide to brainstorm a story out of it. When we begin this ‘cast all we have is the prompt.

Then we brainstorm, plowing through setting, character, conflict, and story.

By the end of the ‘cast we’re ready to make a pitch to an editor and sell the book.

Okay, maybe not. But the book is totally ready for us to sit down and write. Or, better yet, for YOU to sit down and write.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn, narrated by Marguerite Gavin

Writing Prompt: Take what we’ve done in this ‘cast and try to come up with a plot and an ending. Alternatively, take the list of competition films from the most recent Sundance Film Festival and pick six that are somehow part of a Fey plot.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

Audible® Free Trial Details
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.