16.19: Intro to Roleplaying Games

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler

For the next eight episodes we’ll be talking about roleplaying games, and how that medium relates to writers, writing, career opportunities, and more. We’re led by James L. Sutter and Cassandra Khaw on this particular quest.

In this episode we lay some groundwork, define a few terms, and hopefully get you excited about looking at games in new and useful ways.

Credits: this episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Spend some time playing a roleplaying game, either video game or tabletop. Take note of what’s fun and what’s not.

16.18: Poetry and the Fantastic

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

For the last seven episodes we’ve explored language, meaning, and their overlap with that thing we mean when we use language to say “poetry.”

In this episode we step back to some origins, including, at a meta-level, the origins of this podcast as a writer-focused exploration of genre fiction—the speculative, the horrific, the science-y, and the fantastic.

Because there is an overlap between language and meaning, and there are myriad overlaps among the genres we love, and as we step back we see poetry striding these spaces, its path in part defining and in part defying the various borders.

Poetry, scouting the fraught borders between the kingdoms of Meaning and Language.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson. 

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Find a favorite line from a novel or short story, one that moves you deeply; use it as the epigraph for a poem.

Monster Portraits, by Sofia Samatar and Del Samatar

16.17: The Time To Rhyme

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

Rhyming is powerful. It can signal a form, or telegraph whimsy. It can be predictable, surprising, and sometimes both.

It may also be seen as childish.

When, then, is it time to rhyme?

Will rhyming “internally” fit?
As opposed to a line-ending bit.
For answers, just listen.
But rhymes will be missin’
Especially where they’d deliver a predictably naughty word at the end of, say, a limerick, because in this context, that would definitely be seen as childish.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson. 

Play

Look up the limericks of Edward Lear, and use them as a model; write a limerick, paying careful attention to how the rhyme needs to match a certain rhythm.

The Forever Sea, by Joshua Phillip Johnson

16.16: Poetic Structure: Part II

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

How does a poem happen?

Absent an external structure, what makes a thing a poem?

The key word in that question may be “external,” because ultimately the poem on the page will be the implicit definition of its own structure—even if it borrows a “non-poetic” structure from another form.

Structure is as structure does. “Unstructured” is just a way to say “I am unfamiliar with this structure,” or maybe “I don’t believe that this structure is fit for poetry.”

And that might be a thing you are currently saying.  After all, “blog post describing a podcast episode” is definitely a structure.

Does the embracing of that structure make this thing into a poem?

If this thing is a poem, how did that happen?

Liner Notes:

  • Girl Hours” by Sofia Samatar (via Stone Telling magazine),
  • The Hill We Climb,” by Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (YouTube from the Biden/Harris Inauguration)

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson. 

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Write a poem inspired by the form with which you’ve chosen to structure it: take a numbered list of things, and use that numbered list to write a poem inspired by the list, and also organized according to that list.

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson

WX RSS: A Quick Tech-Team Update

Howard here.

Lemme lead with this: we’re aware of the problem, and the person who is most likely to be able to fix it has been alerted.

The problem? At some point in the recent past the Writing Excuses RSS feed stopped working with several podcast aggregation services. I could speculate wildly as to the cause, but I shan’t. My lane is clearly defined, and I’ll be staying within it.

Yes, yes, I know. I am listed as the technical contact for the RSS feed. Ten years ago that seemed like a good idea. Perhaps in light of the current crufterchuck we will update some of that information, but the pressing issue is getting the RSS feed fixed.

Thank you for sticking with us. We’re still putting up new episodes each week. In fact, just yesterday we recorded an eight-episode mini-master-class on interactive fiction with James L. Sutter and Cassandra Khaw. It’s great stuff, and we look forward to the day when you’ll get to listen to it.

Hopefully you can listen via your favorite podcast aggregation service. We’re still working on that part.

16.15: Poetic Structure, Part I

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

Rigorous structure in poetic form
is commonly pointed at when we declare
Poems have meters and rhymes, as the norm.

Yet words without patterns can roar like a storm
So why pay attention, why study with care
Rigorous structure in poetic form?

Just set it aside, surrender the gorm
(means “alertness”, a quite-handy rhyme I put there)
Poems have meters and rhymes as the norm.

Let some of it go, perhaps. Let it transform
beyond all the rhyming. Deny, if you dare:
Rigorous structure in poetic form

Okay, you can maybe keep some of it warm
Those toasty iambics by which you might swear:
Poems have meters and rhymes as the norm.

This episode text I wrote: does it inform?
Will all be confused when this couplet doth air?
“Rigorous structure in poetic form:
Poems have meters and rhymes as the norm.”

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson. The villanelle above was the first—and hopefully last—ever composed by Howard Tayler. Yes, the Writing Excuses tagline is a haiku. No, Howard did not know that when he wrote it in 2008.

Play

Write either of these:
Just one villanelle (Howard!)
or three full haiku.

Pay close attention
To the demands of their forms.
Constraints can inspire!

(Fifteen minutes long
Because you’re in a hurry
and this is haiku.)

“Resident Alien,” available on SyFy or through Amazon.

16.14: Poetic Language

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

We might begin with description.

Or we might begin by deconstructing the act of describing.

Wait. No, not there.

Let’s jump in AFTER the deconstruction.

Let’s leap beyond a statement of topic, let’s hurdle clear of mundane declarations of the audio file’s length, and together plunge headlong into metaphor, the icy water perhaps calling to mind Archimedes, as we describe our episode (or any other thing) not in terms of its intrinsic attributes, but by taking account of what it has displaced into the spaces it doesn’t occupy.

How long does the displacement remain? How might one apply paint to the emptiness after the thing has left?

What color is silence that follows the end of the episode?

(An end which follows twenty minutes and thirty-three seconds in which the four of us discuss the kinds of words we imagine when we say “poetic language.”)

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Look at this sentence: “It’s a dark, grey winter’s day; there’s a lot of snow on the ground and a cold wind’s blowing.”

Distill this sentence until it feels like a poem to you. Introduce line breaks wherever you like; cut as much as you want until it feels like it’s singing to you.

Then, once you have a compact, dense poem, expand it outwards: can you keep it feeling like a poem while giving it more shape and length?

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse

16.13: Day Brain vs. Night Brain

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

Patterns in the way we’re speaking may betray which ‘brain’ we’re using; often bound by what’s familiar, sometimes loosed for free-er choosing.

Writing like the day-brain’s thinking
Singing while the night-brain’s winking
All the cadence going funky
(golden-mantled howler monkey)

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson. XKCD #1412, by Randall Munroe, was referenced during this episode. As was the Greater Cleveland Film Commission.

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Night Brain exercise: take a piece of prose that is giving you trouble. Put yourself in a dark, quiet place. Listen to a recording of a poem (“Moon Fishing” may serve nicely.) Write automatically, unselfconsciously, for 5 minutes: think about it like singing on the page.

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders