Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 1: Q&A on Setting and Characters at Mountain Con with John Brown

You didn’t think we’d just keep going with the same old stuff forever, did you? Well, actually we are, but now we’re calling it Season 2. This season begins with a series of episodes recorded at Mountain Con in Layton, UT, each of them rife with wisdom and wonder.

This week Writing Excuses is brought to you by the Writing Excuses Season One Collection on CD.


40 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 1: Q&A on Setting and Characters at Mountain Con with John Brown”

  1. MORE MORE MORE! NOT ENOUGH! 15 minutes is not enough!!! Great job guys, you always make me laugh.

  2. WEKM:
    Thank you for the bacon money! I used it to make rouladen this Sunday, a German dish that’s basically steak wrapped around bacon and dill pickle. It is arguably my favorite food ever.

  3. Dan – You had me up until the part about the dill pickle.

    Geez, you guys are so much more productive when it comes to dealing with uncooperative characters. I usually just fantasize about killing mine for long periods of time.


    I think the question of how much setting description to put in your story also depends a bit on character. What kind of setting details you can get away with depends on what sort of things your point-of-view character(s) might notice. Things like that are a lot less intrusive when they’re believable.

    Only a part of the equation, of course, but worth mentioning I thought.

  4. Hey! Just be thankful it’s a German food that doesn’t involve grinding up animals and shoving them back into their own intestines!

  5. As long as I get my weekly shot of Writing Excuses, I’m happy to eat whatever kind of pickles are thrown at me. (though I am a particular fan of dill)

  6. Polish pickles may be all well and good – and I’ll grant you that for many ocassions they are – but they have no place in rouladen. Period.

    Dan, don’t let these guys get to you. You made a fine and sensible choice for this dish. But I do hope you also used onions and mustard? Without them I wouldn’t call what you had rouladen.

  7. Mmmm, delicious animal intestines.

    (Just kidding, I’ve never tried them.)

    I … I guess I’m the only one that doesn’t like pickles, then. Well, FINE!

  8. Mustard yes, though I didn’t add any onions this time. About half my rouladen recipes have them, and half don’t. Next time, though, is definitely the onions’ turn. I always use mustard, though, and in great quantities to make sure that plenty of it spills out and gets into the pan, and therefore the gravy.

  9. Just got my season 1 discs in the mail and to all – I highly reccomend buying it! The bonus episodes were an unexpected plus as was the opportunity to read a Dan Wells book and teaser.Thanks guys!

  10. Hey guys! I’m sorry about the off-topic post, but I have a request for a future episode subject, if you can get to it. I’m most interested in writing screenplays, and even though there are many similarities between that and novels (especially characters and character-driven plot), this episode (hey, I’m back on-topic!) has highlighted a definite difference between the two: description of setting and how setting drives characters. I’m hoping that a discussion of the differences between writing novels and screenplays is a fascinating enough subject for you to tackle. Thanks!

  11. Darren – we’ve been talking this whole time about pickles, and you’re worried about being off-topic?

    Hmmm, the difference between novels and screenplays. Well, for one I don’t know if I would say that screenplays are *necessarily* more setting-driven than any other form of storytelling, really. Setting is still present in stage and screenplays, though I think you kind of have to be aware that the writer’s vision on the page isn’t necessarily going to translate directly to what the director envisions on a stage. (Or a screen. We all have our mediums.)

    This is going to sound extraordinarily trite, but you know that “Show don’t tell” maxim that we’re all so sick of hearing? It becomes especially important in writing for stage or screen, I think, because unless your characters really like to soliloquize your opportunities to “tell” are pretty darned minimal. Your dialogue has to really drive the story and the characters forward. And you have to be careful what details you put in the dialogue versus the stage directions, because directors can and will change your stage directions to suit them, while it seems (in my limited experience) that they’re at least somewhat less free about changing dialogue.

    Of course, I’m only just getting into writing plays again after about three years of, erm, not writing plays, so I’m not really the best person to answer this. Where’s our resident expert on the subject? Karl? Kaarl! You’re up! :P

  12. A comment about the labelling system for episodes, having just received the CD.

    Todays episode is “/Writing_Excuses_Episode2-1.mp3”

    Because of the way computers sort files, could you label the with 2-digit numbers? eg: “Writing_Excuses_Episode_02-01.mp3”
    This means I don’t have to generate a customised play list for the computer.

  13. “This is Rouladen Excuses. Fifteen recipies long, ‘cuz we’re German and you’re not that pickled!”

    Okay, all seriousness asside…

    Darren, since I’ve labored to write several screen plays, I have found that setting is mostly just a suggestion. The screenwriter can loosly describe how a place should look, but ultimately the production designer will, well, design the look. And of course this is all at the discretion of the producer and director.

    Several texted I’ve read on screenwriting suggest only giving minimal stage direction and location description. This can be as siimple as “Ext — street corner, night” or “INT — long metalic corridor, dimly lighted.”

    The bulk of the script will then be what happened and what was said.

    This is, of course, horribly over simplified.

    I would start by reading books by Syd Field:

    Also, spend some time reading exisiting screenplays to get a feel for them.

  14. I have a link with loads of screenplays for recent movies. However I haven’t a clue about copyright issues so I can’t just post it here. Can anyone fill in the copyright details of doing so?

  15. I would check Drew’s Script-O-Rama. To my knowledge all of the scripts listed should be legally available.


    Drew’s been around for over 13 years, and has quite a good collection of scripts available. I would avoid anything described as a ‘transcript’ and stick to actual scripts. Some are listed as ‘early drafts’ which can be a fun read to see how a film might have been before a re-write.

    A favorite of mine it the early draft of Aliens 3 by William Gibson. I would have much rather seen his script produced than what finaly came out. It follows the story of Hicks and Bishop instead of Ripley.

  16. Oh, links! I’ll have to check them out. You know, in my copious amounts of free time.

    Just curious, Karl – do you write for stage at all?

  17. Lois McMaster Bujold writes chapter by chapter, letting the characters and the story go where they will. She has commented that there were times she didn’t intend Miles Vorkosigan to take over a story, but by sheer force of will he does. Also, “Hallowed Hunt” was intended to focus more on the female lead, but the conflict between the male lead and the antagonist took over the story.

    One of my favorite back stories about stories going unexpected ways comes from Tolkien. He set about writing a sequel to The Hobbit, where Bingo, the nephew of Bilbo would take the ring on an adventure. Tolkien wrote his son one day explaining that Bingo had met a Black Rider upon the road, and that he didn’t know what it meant. Upon reflection, Tolkien realized that The Hobbit, and consequently its sequel took place in the third age of his Middle Earth mythology (The Silmarillion and other stories cover the first and second ages), and that the ring was the One Ring. And so was born The Lord of the Rings, and the rest is, as they say, history. Or Bacon. At least, that’s my recollection of the facts.

  18. Can’t say that I’ve ever written for the stage.

    I haven’t even written for pay yet.

    I’d settle for having written for food. Rouladen, for example.

  19. Ahaha. I just had this wonderful image of somebody sitting on a busy street corner, holding up a sign in ink-stained hands that says, “Will Write Scripts for Rouladen”.

    Am I just really tired, or is that actually funny?

  20. Um… well, I hope it was funny. That’s what I had in mind when I wrote it.

    Glad it wasn’t just funny in my psychotic mind…

  21. Excellent. We’re in agreement then!

    Great minds think alike, of course. Or pyschotic ones, but same diff, right?

    (And we’ll just gloss over the latter half of that expression… anyone up for some rouladen?)

  22. Isn’t it ironic? The podcast discussed how a character could take over a storyline. I think the rouladen has taken over this forum thread!

    I think we should all appologis to Mr. John Brown for drooling on his fine efforts and knowledge.

  23. Indeed! Accept mine.

    Though in my defense, I DID say one or two things that tried to be on topic. Besides, Dan started it. ;)

  24. Who is John Brown? I don’t mean to be insulting but I don’t think I’ve read any of his work.

  25. Ben,

    John Brown, as stated here http://johndbrown.com/about/, is another bacon guy whose “debut as a novelist includes the forthcoming epic fantasies from Tor (an imprint of St. Martin’s): Servant of a Dark God, Curse of a Dark God, and Dark God’s Glory. The first should appear September of 2009 at your local bookstore. Brown currently lives with his wife & four daughters in the hinterlands of Utah where one encounters much fresh air, many good-hearted ranchers, and an occasional wolf.”

    As for reading him.

    “Brown’s short work has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Best of the Rest 4, and The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He also received a first prize in the Writers of the Future contest and was published in vol 13 under the name Bo Griffin.”

    You can look them up or, much easier, gaze at them online here: http://johndbrown.com/shorts/

    As for the quality of his work, well, of course, it fabulous. Truly fabulous. :)

  26. What fun is writing if your characters don’t take over? Then everything’s all predictable and boring. Or maybe I just suck at writing everything except for characters. (At least, I hope I don’t suck at writing characters.)

    Raethe: Don’t worry, I hate pickles too. Also, I’m vegan.

    John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave… (You can’t tell me no one else thought of that song. I’m sorry, John Brown.)

  27. John Brown is a semi-local author (he lives in Laketown, in northern Utah) who has sold a fantasy series to Tor. The first book, “Servant of a Dark God,” comes out next year.

  28. Clare,

    I think the urge to sing some ditty when I tell people my name is the result of some force of nature. About 30% of people I meet in person can’t contain themselves. It always makes me smile. And so in my bio http://johndbrown.com/about/ I pause at the beginning to allow people to sing their favorite John Brown song (there are actually three different ones). And because it IS a force a nature, I link to lyrics so those souls can sing with gusto. And why not? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone were to one-little-two-little-three-little-Indian their way through it? Heck, I think it might even help with greenhouse gasses.

  29. I want to see Dan wear that at his book signings.

    (Cause you know, I’ll totally be able to come to his book signings. In Utah. Yeah. *shifty eyes*)

Comments are closed.