Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 22: Idea to Story

You are going to love this episode. Seriously.

Brandon throws an idea at Dan and Howard, and then we spend 15 minutes expanding on that idea as if we were going to base a story around it.

You people who keep asking where we get our ideas? You’re asking the wrong question. Ideas are easy to come by — everybody has them. The right question is “how do you turn an idea into a story?”

This podcast skips to the important part of answering the question: demonstration. Enjoy!

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible. Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership*.

Your writing prompt: Bugs are now magical. Ohcrap.

*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.


32 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 22: Idea to Story”

  1. That was very impressive and it’s very helpful to get all the great stuff, you guys have been mentioning so many times into context.

    Good luck on Tuesday Brandon, I’m looking forward to a great read.

    Thanks guys, this is a wonderful pod cast.

  2. I’m about one minute in, and I can already tell that by the end of fifteen minutes the word “idea” is going to look/sound like a word straight out of the Goobledegook national language. Or perhaps Klingon.

    Now I’m going to go hide from the Star Trek fans while I finish listening to the ‘cast.

  3. Great podcast. To me, it is valuable to get inside another artist’s brain and see how it ticks and today you let us do that. It may not be the way I do things, but it gives me ideas that I can try and see if they work better.

  4. I don’t have time to pursue this, so I’ll just throw this possible point of conflict out there: If bugs are now poisonous to things that eat them, you now have millions, perhaps even billions, of insectivores (bats, anteaters, hedgehogs, etc.) who are going to be dying in massive numbers. What effect is that going to have on predators/scavengers? Do the effects of the magic linger (i.e. could scavengers start dying from eating dead bats and hedgehogs?)? What about the public health effects? Will the deaths of these millions and billions of insectivores cause problems for humans? What about animals that aren’t primarily insectivores, but still have some bugs in their diet? There’s a whole lot of detail in here, if you’re looking for this to have an environmental theme. That was all just off the top of my head, and I’m sure someone who wanted to sit down and do the research could come up with a whole lot more on the environmental implications of this problem.

  5. I would just like to wish Brandon a happy and successful book tour. Although I actually think that before this week is up, the nonstop stress of Brandon’s schedule will have reduced him to a Brandon-shaped wad of jerky. But that’s the price you pay for writing a #1 bestseller. In the end, all we can do is throw some teriyaki sauce on him and sell him in plastic bags with those little powder packets that absorb oxygen.

    Seriously, though, I don’t envy the guy. If I was him, I would be ready to bite people’s heads off before the second day of the tour was over. Try to sneak some sleep in if you can, Brandon.

  6. Here’s where I went with this:

    A small rural town gets infected by a zombie virus. The military responds quickly and effectively to quarantine the town, then they round up and kill all the zombies, and destroy the bodies. They get done in just about a week.

    However, some of the survivors think that the military’s strategy of destroying all the zombies is too severe, especially if they have loved ones who got zombified. They secretly hide some of the zombies from the military, and the military doesn’t suspect anything because they think everyone would want to help them stamp out the zombie virus. The people protecting the zombies include doctors, biologists, and even some military people (who are perhaps protecting fellow soldiers who got zombified during the quarantine operation). Over the next few weeks, they do experiments and start to learn things about their captured zombies that give them hope that they might be able to find a cure for the zombie virus.

    Meanwhile, though, the captured zombies are in close proximity to a lot of bugs (they are, after all, rotting). Because of this proximity, the zombie virus eventually mutates in a way that lets it infect bugs. The resulting zombie bugs are unkillable (since they’re already dead), and they infect other bugs with the zombie virus. They also try to infect anything that eats them with the zombie virus, but this usually ends up just killing the predator, since the zombie virus isn’t specifically adapted against the predators. The zombie bugs don’t act much different because they don’t have brains in the same way that people do, but they might become more aggressive, and bugs that usually form hives or colonies might stop exhibiting that kind of group behavior.

    The people who are protecting the zombies discover these bugs in their fields and quickly realize what has happened. They realize that the zombie bugs would be much harder to contain than the zombie people, and that they could ultimately be just as dangerous, by destroying the world’s crops and upsetting the ecosystem. However, they can’t warn anyone about the bugs, because if anyone investigated, they would discover the zombies that the people are protecting….

  7. This is a great episode for struggling NaNoWriMos (National Novel Writing Month writers)! And we’ve got several! I’m suggesting it to my entire Region.

    Keep up the good work! I listen to the podcast every Monday at my job (it makes the day go so much better).

  8. Wow, Herbert must have really been fascinated by bugs. I read Hellstrom’s Hive on a recommendation from a colleague. In that case, it was humans genetically manipulated to function like insects, but, in grand Frank Herbertian style, I paused at page 25 and said to myself “And that’s when things got weird.”

    Related to Brandon’s process, I realized that my current project is over-balanced on the conflict–it doesn’t have enough characters to carry the plot out. It was useful to see that way of looking at it. Thanks, guys, as always!

  9. Good podcast. I think you really gave some good insight into the way the process works. To follow up on something you said, I agree that every story — and espeically a novel — needs more than one good idea. For me, often the alchemy comes when I have two ideas that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other and I put them together. Then you can spend a whole novel exploring the intersections and connecitons of those ideas.

    Thanks for the demonstration.

  10. By the way, you might want to look up some of David Brin’s thoughts on Joseph Campbell and Star Wars, just for a totally different perspective.

  11. Great Podcast. I think this will remain up there in my top ten favorites of your podcasts. Technically, I think that you guys have covered the principles behind this, but it was great to see you guys apply it.

    And good luck tomorrow Brandon!! C’mon New York Times #1!!

  12. Excellent demonstration. So glad to know that I’m in good company with my brainstorming process. You guys are fantastic.

  13. This scenario makes me wonder if fire would work. If it did we have your standard urban fantasy/sci fi thriller. If it didn’t you would have a horror/tragedy of epic proportions. I like fire. Let us not forget that if it can’t solve your problems, then you should look closely for the apocalypse to follow shortly thereafter

  14. I think you summarized one of the major plotlines of the Speaker for the Dead/Xenocide/Children of the Mind series with that idea. True, the descolada isn’t a bug, but it’s an insane superresiliant disease that affects everything and it kills anything that tries to kill it (short of extradimensional travelers – yay meta^2 physics).

    Good episode, great idea, keep it up!

  15. Ah David, why does it always have to come back to zombies.
    Just kidding, nice twist on it though. At least you went looking for a cause to the “magic bugs”.

    And Hann1bal, you hit on the next biggest problem. How long before other things die off or are over run.
    Great, now I am going to have nightmares all over again.
    Howard, I blame you. You dropped Schlocktoberfest, so obviously these guys have seen fit to dredge up their own horrors.

  16. Just stopping by to say I started downloading this podcast on iTunes about a month or two ago and I adore it. Not only are you guys funny, but the format of the show means that instead of just being prescriptive and telling us “how” to write, you discuss it with each other and toss ideas around and it makes for much more interesting and useful listening for those of us who are past the beginner stage and who are looking for discussion of the craft rather than basic mechanics. (Woo, run-on sentence!) So, thanks! I’m here on your website, btw, so I can go back and start from the beginning, since for some reason, my iTunes feed only goes back to sometime in season two…

    Oh, and also, this episode was particularly useful. :)

  17. I first started noticing the changes after I sealed all the cracks and crevices in my house. It took two boxes of caulking tubes but when I was done there was no place for those roaches to hide. At least not the ones who were not already sealed up behind the new caulk. We had a lot of roaches. Our house was a bungalow style wooden sided house that a previous owner had added asbestos siding onto back in the late 60s. There was all kinds of “roach holes” in it, but not after I spent two weeks after dinner caulking every crack, seam and cabinet in the house. I also spent a week reworking all the drawers and doors in the kitchen cabinets so they close flush with the fascia. They are practically airtight now.

    My boy and I, and occasionally my screaming wife had a stomp fest for the next month or so. Towards the end, before the change, we were only killing 10 or 15 a night. I bought one of those bristle shoe cleaner things people buy and station outside their mud room to clean boots or shoes of mud. Sam and I needed it to clean the guts off the bottom of our shoes. We got real good with the fly swatters too. Sam usually got one or two in flight every night. Then it changed. It was a Tuesday night and after dinner my wife presented Sam and I with a big piece of chocolate cake. One of those three layer ones with thick fudge chocolate icing. Man that was good!

    Sam and I didn’t know what it was for but we are not stupid. We started eating before she realized that it wasn’t dessert night. When I finally noticed that my wife and three girls were happily watching us eat I had to ask what this was for. They made a big deal about us killing all the roaches. That we had come to their rescue, fought the long war and defeated the evil roaches. They had not seen a single roach all day. I stopped in mid chew. I remember that moment clearly. I had not seen any since getting home. It didn’t make since. Not then but it does now.

    We have learned a lot since then, but that was a different time and we did not know about insect magic back then. We really freaked out that day the flour dropped to floor and the dust cloud it created coated the hundreds of previously invisible roaches hiding in plan sight. Seems they have always had always used magic to hide from us and get away when we thought we had them cornered somewhere. But when I took all their hiding places away, well they got desperate. Those were simpler times.

    Apparently roaches travel a lot and talk to each other because pretty soon all the roaches in the county were gone. Then it was more counties, now its North America and is starting in Europe and Asia. They have a better chance than we do. See the country as a whole really freaked out when we found out all roaches were invisible and very few woman felt safe or comfortable wondering if there were roaches on the sandwich they were about to eat or on the blouse they were about to put on. Men weren’t any different but when every woman in the United States is telling their men that they need to kill all roaches, wipe them out, no matter what it takes, well that is what they do. Or in our case set out to do.

    We really took it to them, but they adapted to our techniques and we had an insect arms race. We don’t know how they do it but they are now generating force fields that stop just about anything. No one tries to step on a roach since they developed that needle field. Steel soled boots will protect your foot from the invisible needle they generate but nothing else will. I would give anything if it would have culminated there.

    But we all started buying steel soled boots. You could still squash them, it was just harder. Then they discovered their own form of explosive. Half the houses in our neighborhood were left empty after all the roaches in our neighborhood apparently learned this trick at the same time. Fifteen people died that morning, others just lost legs. Within a week it was happening everywhere.

    I leave them be now but the war still goes on. The big defense firms joined the game but it doesn’t look good from my perspective. I think maybe we have been thinking that this was a “roach” thing only, but I can’t help but notice that there is no longer a wasp nest under the eaves near the corner of my house and that the fire ant hill in the back yard deflects rain.

  18. Brandon, you mentioned you use “The Book Guide” when working on a story. I was wondering if you have heard of a program for writers called: Liquid Story Binder? I just found this little gem myself and am loving it. It allows you to do outlines, storyboards, Character Dossiers, and much more. I think it might be helpful to you guys and any of the other listeners who are attempting their own literary project.

    Great podcast, and have fun on your book tour!

  19. I thoroughly enjoyed the Podcast (as well as every other one I’ve listened to) and decided for once that I’d post something that popped up into my mind whilst I went through the many topics here on Writing Excuses. For me, it’s almost impossible to write an emotion-evoking pieces without appropriate music going; it’d be very interesting to see your views on the power of music while you write your fiction.

  20. Excellent podcast and a great way for anyone to come up with a last minute idea for NaNo 09 (which starts tonight at midnight-Nov 1st).

  21. Saw Dan at World Fantasy today (in fact, I went and bugged him right before his panel, in flagrant violation of Howard’s con rules. :P). Anyway, no offense to Dan, but it was a good thing he was wearing an “I am not a serial killer” t-shirt. That sinister profile, that haircut, the lighting… let’s just say that without the t-shirt, I would’ve been worried.

    Had a good time at the convention. Learned a few things, met some cool people, managed to avoid spending bucketloads of money in the dealer room. Fun times all around.

    Who else is doing NaNoWriMo?

  22. Trying to Sean, but working on filling in all the scenes I plan to do in the story and I’m just not feeling the ideas I’m hitting. Getting perturbed here. But the story continues on, with or without me ;-)

  23. I’m doing it, or at least trying. Don’t really have a plot yet, and this month should be busy enough to make things… interesting. But hey. I managed it last year. If I get desperate I can always do another marathon. :)

    It should come as no surprise that I’m known as Raethe on NaNo. Link’s below if anyone wants to add me:


  24. Great episode. I’ve been trying some of these methods recently, it is a good way to generate an outline directly from brainstorming. I may be able to put something together during NaNo using this episode. My problem is I have a very ambitious plot, but it lacks direction, and I have no ending. Has their been an episode done on focus?

    Also, If anyone hasn’t read The Gathering Storm yet they’re missing out on a remarkable book. Thank you, Brandon.

  25. Spudd86,

    I downloaded wikipad from that site; at first, I was a bit lost as to what to do, but, as I begin to fiddle around with it, it proved to be a very useful tool for not only brainstorming but creating a single document that holds an entire story’s worth of information. It’s literally a personal, offline wikipedia for your book. Great find, and thank you.

  26. @Spudd86: I take it you haven’t listened to some of the earlier podcasts (it’s well worth going back to earlier seasons) – one of their first podcasts (no more than episode 12, iirc) is a discussion of organizational systems. I can’t remember who it was who brought up WikiDPad…I think it was Dan, cause Howard has all the formatting issues to deal with because of his medium, and I know it wasn’t Brandon, since he mentioned his Word document map system.

Comments are closed.