Writing Excuses 6.27: Fantasy Setting Yard Sale

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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37 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 6.27: Fantasy Setting Yard Sale”

  1. This was one cool podcast. Also The Alloy of Law is an awesome book. I loved it. I hope there will be more.

  2. I love world building, but I need help working the details into the story. It’s not just avoiding the info dump, I can never seem to show the reader the world in a compelling, readable way.


  3. Tony: my take on delivery of worldbuilding is that you don’t do it on purpose. Describe scenes to whatever detail is natural to you (stark descriptions work well a lot of the time – it’s a very different style than any of the gentlemen here (Sorry, Mary, still looking for one of your books). All three use a great deal of imagery; if you find you wax pedantic (like Tolkien), fix it later). Depending on how detailed your worldbuilding is, you may be using only 1 percent or so of your database – I think Brandon has said about ten percent for him at one point.

    An excellent example of good starkly written setting is Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon. He describes an epic battle between two powerful groups of magi, including a place called Moon’s Spawn, which seems to be capable of flight. I’ve only just started the book, but most authors likely would have explained in greater detail what this object is beforehand, but the scene still works well.

    But then, that’s just my take. I’m hardly the best person to be taking writing advice from here.

  4. @Rashkavar

    Good points. What I need is practice. And it occurs to me, after reading your comment, that I need to trust the reader to see the world. Gardens of the Moon does that to the extreme. I didn’t know what the hell Moonspawn was for a long time. Erickson doesn’t give much in the way of explanation until ‘House of Chains’ (I think).

    Thanks Rash.

  5. This is my favorite podcast in a long while, and I think the most successful world-building / story-building episode you’ve ever done.

    But one question I have is, what happens if two people start with these ideas and both end up getting something published? I mean, I suppose they would probably diverge and end up pretty different, but what if they didn’t?

  6. Have you guys considered suing Anne McCaffrey for travelling back to 1967 and writing novels with a planet periodically suffering from meteors every 200 years or so?

  7. @K. Bill: Then it depends on who has the better publisher/publicist. ;) Most fiction books have some sort of disclaimer at the beginning stating that any similarities to any other work of fiction or real people/events/etc. is purely coincidental (unless it’s a historical fiction, or some other genre based in the real world, where you would adjust that statement accordingly). This actually happens a bit, I wouldn’t say frequently but if you let things like worrying someone will have a similar idea to you get in the way, my opinion is you’re only hurting yourself.

    I like the ideas here. I’m impressed with how fast Howard can run with new concepts. I think I’ll incorporate some of these with my own flavor into my next “writing for myself” project. :D

  8. So, Brandon called Alloy a “new starting point.” That means there’s going to be a sequel, right? I will be patient, and imagine happy endings.

  9. @Ed: “things periodically fall from the sky” is about the extent of the similarity between what we suggested and McCaffrey’s “thread fall” in the Pern books.

  10. To be honest, I don’t find these “off-the cuff”, make-shit-up-as-we-go podcasts as helpful as most others. I understand the point is to help with brainstorming, but it might just be me. I don’t think I really have problems coming up with ideas, it’s finding the exact right ones to mix together and the execution I need to work on. I did like this one, though.

    It does bring to mind one question, though, along with what K. Bill was saying. I’m always paranoid about talking about some of the main story and world of my book (especially the magic system and how it works). I’m worried someone else with hear it and run with it. But that also stunts my ability to brainstorm ideas with others, so I’m left in something of a vacuum when I’m stuck and could use some outside suggestions. Am I being too paranoid?

  11. Hi, so I went to download your podcast from iTunes today, and could only get 6.22 on. Soon realizing that there were six seasons to listen to, and wanting to start from the beginning, I came to your website in hopes of finding a way to download every episode.

    Unfortunately, it looks like the only way I can download all the episodes is to purchase one of these CDs available. Other than that, I could go to each page for each episode, and download the mp3s one at a time.

    I don’t have the patience for this. Where can I easily download all of your episodes in one place? I’m sorry to say this, but I doubt I’ll even start listening to you guys unless I can start at the beginning, and I am not paying for something that is free, or spending five hours selecting files.

    Please contact my email address with help. Thank you.

  12. Jeff,

    Even if we brainstormed on the exact same world and plot – I’d still have to write an entire story or novel without putting any twists on my world that are different from yours, writing characters exactly like yours, with a tone and voice like yours… unlikely to say the least!

    We draw inspiration from our experiences and our imagination, colored with our worldview – if you listen to the podcast again, you’ll likely hear that these fine folks are collaborating on building the same world – but they’re picturing very different things and coming up with different ideas and plots in their minds.

    Ideas are everywhere – the drive to complete a book is not. Take your inspiration and help where you want it – and when you find people that are willing to be a sounding board for your world, you’ve also made a head start on finding your beta readers.

  13. @Matt: Just listen a few episodes at a time. This isn’t a sequential project. Listen to the new episodes first.

    Besides, you shouldn’t listen to all 50+ hours of Writing Excuses all in one go. You need to be writing. In fact, if you decide not to listen to us at all out of spite, you STILL need to be writing. Go write.

  14. @Jeff: You’re being a little paranoid. If you learn nothing else from this podcast, learn that ideas are CHEAP. The hard part is execution.

    We do casts like this because some people need help generating ideas. The same tricks we used to lay out a magic system and a political structure can be used to lay out a character conflict, a personality flaw, or even the underpinnings of a page of dialog — things that most writers are going to need to have when they get down to the execution.

    Also, the obscenity in your post was not appropriate. Maybe you’re trying to be light-hearted, but you sound like you’re denigrating the work we put into these podcasts. That tone is not welcome here, so please don’t use it again.

  15. @Howard: Let me apologize. I did not mean to even hint at denigrating the team’s work. I have nothing but respect for you all and the help you’re giving us new writers. I was trying to say something else and obviously did so very poorly (looks like I need to work on my communication writing skills).

    Ans thanks for the advice.

    Sorry again.

  16. @Jeff: Thanks for clearing it up. You’re not the first person to learn that forum posts are often a great way to find the places where your writing is not communicating what you’re actually thinking. :-)

  17. Besides, you shouldn’t listen to all 50+ hours of Writing Excuses all in one go. You need to be writing. In fact, if you decide not to listen to us at all out of spite, you STILL need to be writing. Go write.

    Ahh, but I’m not a writer, I’m a reader! And listening to three seasons straight was really wonderful. So I got the DVD and got two more seasons straight. Now I’ve started with the podcasts, too bad Apple doesn’t keep the back issues available.

    It has given me a much greater appreciation for Schlock Mercenary, and cued me in that the books had material that was cleaned up or smoothed out from the strips — and that there was bonus material. Now my daughter wants me to buy the rest of the books for the bonus strips alone. Once she realized Schlock intuitively understood the evil of clowns she was convinced he was and is a true hero.

  18. @Matt? How much is your time worth to you? There is a DVD available for the first five seasons


    Or, of course, you could walk through the episodes. Incidentally, the transcripts links (upper left corner here) takes you to an index listing the episode name, transcript link, and episode link. Makes finding a particular episode somewhat easier. Or you could go to the transcript index over here which links to the season ones


    The individual sessions are pretty independent, though. You don’t really need to listen to them in order.

    I hope you enjoy the episodes, however you decide to listen to them.

  19. Though I do look down on those that would use this forum for sheer promotion of any one author’s literary work, I must call myself a hypocrite and say that the Mistborn series, in its entirety, is an astounding work. It contains a great abilities mechanic, heated sociopolitical struggle, vast character depth/forshadowing, and an addicting imaginative possibility. For all this, and more, I would like to thank you. (Though, I believe the Twinborn double Chromium is a broken mechanic, especially with the addition of Compounding and Savant. I’m sure you can think of the possibilities.)

    Back to the original point, Ability Mechanic Yard Sale. Here is my thought, an ability to control entropy. On a small, local scale, of course, where a person can make small impossibilities take place with a large cost to themselves. The cost: their personal entropy must increase to compensate for the action. A large example: I can increase the probability of lightning to strike my enemy, but the user would deteriorate by the same degree. A realistic example: I can pick a lock by causing the tumblers to sit in the “open” state as opposed to “closed” with minimal effects. It’s good for small, precise actions, and neither breaks Sanderson’s First nor the Donkey Rule. It’s akin to minor quantum control in a macro world.

  20. @Stephen
    Just you wait. Talking about writing will saturate your subconscious until you find yourself planning your own story without even realizing it.

    @ G. Pavlov
    Have you ever read Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde? There’s a character with that ability, but if it cost him/her anything, I don’t remember. The author tends to ignore little details like that, but no one should think too hard about anything that man writes.

  21. @ Ed, I too thought Anne McCaffrey when the discussion went to planets with “stuff coming from space every few hundred years”. The Writing Excuses take was pretty different though. She died a few weeks ago and was a writer I greatly admired. Anyone wanting to study good world building should look at the world of Pern. She covered geography, politics, social class, zoology, economics, orbital physics, and so on. She built it all cohesively into a world that made sense.

    @ Tony, net everything needs explaining. Be willing to let your reader be a “co-creator” with you in the story. When reading The Hunger Games, one woman in my book club said that she didn’t know what Katniss looked like. I said, until they made the movie, it didn’t matter. We can imagine whoever we want and then the story becomes the reader’s just as much as the writer’s. Of course if you leave too much out then you’re readers get lost and confused. So balance in all things. Howard’s advice here is spot on. Write, write, write. That’s how you get better and learn the craft.

  22. I just don’t understand why you don’t keep all of your episodes on iTunes. I want the simplicity of being able to download all of your podcasts with one click, and then transfer them all to my iPod with another click. I listen to other podcasts that have hundreds (over 300) episodes all available on iTunes, in one spot.

    My point is that I want to be able to easily download every episode, throw them all on my iPod, and then start listening at my convenience. It just seems a little too time consuming to have to download everything individually, and then import them to iTunes, instead of just downloading them all at the same time. Also, I really don’t have any money to spare on a hard copy of this stuff.

    I’m sorry that I sound so negative, but I was really looking forward to sitting down the other night and exploring all of your episodes. I really admire Brandon Sanderson, and it was because I searched his name in iTunes that I found the podcast in the first place. Elantris, the Mistborn trilogy, and Warbreaker were all amazing books (starting The Way of Kings soon), and I really would like to hear Brandon’s view on some things.

    Rest assured that, one way or another, I will listen to your podcast. I’m just saying that it should be more easily accessible.

    As far as spending my time writing goes, I have really only begun to think about doing so, and all I have at the moment are ideas in my head. After listening to a few podcasts from “The Odyssey” workshop, I realized how little I actually knew about a lot of stuff. You may tell me that I need to be spending my time writing, but to me, I would rather learn first, as I am still developing ideas in my head anyways.

  23. I was really looking forward to sitting down the other night and exploring all of your episodes

    …just not quite enough to actually pay for them. Cry us all a river.

  24. Hi guys, I love the show. I’ve been listening for some time now and it just keeps getting better. Thank you for continuing the cast even though your own schedules have surely expanded over the last several years.

    You did a cast early on–season 2 maybe–wherein your significant others (and Aprilynne Pike’s hubby) talked about their perspectives on the care and feeding of an artist. Any plans to do an updated version?

    I write a lot. I get up early every morning before work to put in 2 hours on whatever’s current. Then I often steal a couple more hours before bed (after the kids have gone to sleep). I try not to infringe on family time, but really, writing and the writing scene is all I think about and nearly all I talk about. I’m sure my long-suffering wife gets sick of hearing about it, but she’s always been supportive and she only complains when my writing time spills over into daily life.

    I’d love to hear an updated spouse-cast on how couples cope with the writer’s need to succeed, especially when they’ve got no track record. I want my wife to know there’s at least a glimmer of hope for our mutual success and my personal obsession.


    — david j.

  25. Great podcast! I’m not sure I’ve ever fit in any box. I’m still learning, but I’d love to be a beta reader or editor for something interstitial. Since my ideas aren’t already pre-defined, I might be able to get a clearer understanding of the work itself.

  26. My two oldest sons (15 and 13) loved this episode. They were a captive audience in the car when I put it on, but once I said “That’s Dan Wells” they settled right down to listen.

    By the end we were all laughing and talking about how we would change things. It was a great homeschooling moment and they didn’t even know they were getting smarter.

    Also, I really appreciate the way you keep the podcast kid-friendly. I made the mistake of listening to A Game of Thrones in the car with the younger two (before I knew better) and we all know how that turned out!

  27. @Klimpaloon — I’m the author of the D&D Expert Set (from the 1970s) and have written a lot, designed a lot. I find that as far as fiction goes, I enjoy reading more than writing. Nonfiction? I’m a lawyer, so I write nonfiction for a living. Many pages, every day. I suspect I’m resistant enough to invidious influences, but who knows.

    @Ed — I, on the other hand, bought the first three seasons on CD, then the first five on DVD to get them easily without having to download them. I’m hoping I can buy the sixth season at some point. I know, I should just wait until I can buy it, but I’ve found myself unable to wait. It was great to listen to three seasons, non-stop. Then quickly two more. Made a lot of driving much better. Just plug in the CDs and drive.

    Gave in and got an iphone, so I can do the podcast route. But I think I will just wait until I can buy season six, now that I think about it, so I can enjoy the rush of listening to hours of writing excuses straight through. I get something more from them in large doses.

    If nothing else, it increases my enjoyment of Schlock Mercenary a great deal. When I’m finished, I can give them to friends.

  28. Let me preface my rude comment with “I love this show, it changed my life, I didn’t even realize I wanted to write before I listened to it.”

    On to me being an ass!

    hey guys way to create Mass Effect out of whole cloth! Bioware called your comet-tail-stardust “Eezo” (Element Zero).

    -causes cancer in most
    -grants magic biotic abilities to others
    -is traded as a resource because it’s a valuable power source

  29. I just listened to this podcast (I’m way behind) and loved it. But I must say that as a professional astronomer I cringed at some of what was suggested. I’m not saying ‘don’t do it’, just suggesting that those considering the space-dust-magic world do a little research and make sure it’s believable or at least reasonable. I can easily imagine some good/decent stories with some horrible scientific mistakes or inconsistencies.

  30. Great episode! It was my first time listening, and I loved it! Those writing ideas are AWESOME!!! I’ve gotta listen to some more episodes!

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