Writing Excuses 7.13: Man Vs. Nature

It’s a “Howard is clueless” episode! One of us, we won’t name any names, didn’t take enough English classes to know the basic conflict archetypes — Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Nature. In this episode we focus on that third one.

One example of Man vs. Nature is Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. Another is Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In both of these cases, while Man vs  Nature is the main plot, Man vs. Man sub-plots keep the story moving.

We talk about the strengths of this type of story, some of the pitfalls to avoid, lots of examples of the archetype, and then we focus on what you can do to tell this sort of story well.

New Word of the Week: “Stereotropical” – a mashup of “stereotypical” and “trope.” Use it when your meaning can’t possibly be confused with “tropical islands in stereo.”


“Jack Black stranded alone on an alien planet.” Your challenge? Make us like the main character and want him to live…

Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey, narrated by Dick Hill

Writing Excuses 7.12: Writing the Omniscient Viewpoint

Let’s talk omniscience, because we’re TOTALLY that smart. Specifically, we’re talking about the omniscient viewpoints. This is the POV from which Tolkien wrote, but we see it a lot less often these days. Has it fallen out of fashion, or does it just not work well?

Generally speaking, the omniscient viewpoint is where the narrator can see all of the action, all of the character thoughts, and is not limited to which character we’re following at any given time. We break this down a little, talking about the different types or styles of omniscient POV, discussing the strengths of each, and offering examples from Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Tom Clancy, Terry Pratchett, David Eddings, James P. Hogan, Frank Herbert and others (including some of our own stuff.)


1) Stick an omniscient narrator scene in between two 3rd-person limited scenes. 2) Have two characters carry on a dialog which is out of sync with what each of them are thinking.

Acacia, by David Anthony Durham, narrated by  Dick Hill

Writing Excuses 7.11: More Microcasting

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?

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.

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

Writing Excuses 7.10: Importance of Criticism, with David Brin

David Brin joined Mary and Dan at World Fantasy to pound the importance of criticism into our heads. Our episode opens with a discussion of what your first book should be (a murder mystery) and why David recommends this to his students.

And then on to criticism. It’s important for us, as writers, to be criticized because we’re all liars, and criticism is the only way to get decent product quality out of us. Unfortunately, we tend to hate the thing that we need the most. So David, Dan, and Mary discuss how to reconcile these two competing points, and how to seek criticism (and lots of other stuff, including how to learn by re-typing something.)


What if dreams became so much more vivid that when you woke up, for a full hour you didn’t know whether you were still dreaming or not?

Startide Rising, by David Brin, narrated by George Wilson