Writing Excuses 7.19: Q&A at UVU

James Dashner joins us for a Q&A at Utah Valley University during Life, The Universe, and Everything.

The first question starts out amazingly rough, but the 12-year-old asking it manages to stick the landing. The questions include:

  • Why is the ARC of James’ first book so different from the later books?
  • How do you handle paragraph- and sentence-level edits?
  • How do you plot your stories?
  • How do you craft endings that are both satisfying, and leave the reader wanting more?
  • What do you do when your compelling villain threatens to take over the whole book?

That Panel Howard Talked About: It’s actually at the end of Massively Parallel, and you can look at it right here.


You get kidnapped and put in an asylum for the criminally sane.

Everneath, by Brody Ashton, narrated by Amy Rubinate

17 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.19: Q&A at UVU”

  1. I found it really interesting that Brandon will write a little bit before going into outline mode. I’ve tried that before and I have a bad habit of keeping on writing, which for me on anything longer than a novelette never works out as I’m a terrible gardener/pantser/pick your term here.

  2. @Patrick Sullivan

    It’s interesting you bring that up. What Brandon does is sort of what I do as well in regards to beginning the book before outlining. I can outline till my heart’s content but I will never truly know the characters and story until I get my hands on it. I used to spend months on an outline and never get cracking on the book when I was in college. It was sort of like running on a treadmill where you have all these ideas/world building/etc. but never really get anywhere. I guess the best way I found out was to just write a terrible first draft and get better the next go around. The best part is that no one has to read that terribly embarrassing first attempt but you

  3. James Dashner was definitely one of my favorite guests up here. He fit in very well with the rest of the gang and I can’t wait for his personality to grace Writing Excuses again.

  4. For anybody who can answer, I have a question: The Writing Excuses crew has on occasion talked about a “Writing Bible” tool that some of them use–What is that tool called? For the life of me I can not find it (here in the casts, or on the web). Thanks in advance for any help.

  5. Off topic, sorry, but I just wanted to mention that Brandon has some great videos on youtube of some writing lectures he’s done. They helped me understand that Brandon only knows the first few letters of any given word. He writes those letters on the whiteboard and then draws a squiggle which, I guess, represents “and other letters as may apply.”

  6. @Nathan. From what I remember, the writing bible was essentially a compilation of all of the notes, world building, and other aids associated with the given story. It can be anything from a physical notebook to a word processor document to a wiki. Several of the Writing Excuses guys use the wiki method, of which there are several kinds available.

    None of my notes have ever grown to…um… biblical proportions so a single MS Word document of only 1 to 2 pages have been sufficient for me so far. Occasionally I supplemented it with diagrams, maps, or other notes in a 3 ring binder (usually only a sheet or two at most). But I’m also a discovery writer so often the items happen in the story first and then I jot the info down so its easier to reference later in the story. Maybe outliners get more from story bibles.

    It’s worth trying out to see if it works for you.

  7. HA! The Document Map tool in Microsoft Word. Brandon mentions it at the end of the Story Bibles episode I linked to in my last post.

  8. @Austin – What I’ve started doing for that sort of thing AND world building is to write shorter pieces about the world in the past (the stuff I’m working on right now for my next project) and earlier bits of important/interesting history that forged the characters who will be IN that work into who they are now.

    That way I explore the characters and figure out things, then I can go back and do all my outlining after I understand the characters well enough to write an outline that’s a lot less prone to change.

  9. I’m in the process of writing a novel and determining whether I am a discovery writer or an outliner. My first draft was discovery-written, and I can’t say I’m pleased with it. It wandered through some awkward paths before I managed to end it. I could probably write novels this way, but I can see it taking several more drafts.

    The next draft I’m going to outline before I start, which is turning out to be discovery writing in short-form, really. But I’ll be able to go back and tweak it more easily than an entire manuscript. Once I’m happy with the outline I’ll start the second draft and see how that experience compares with the first.

    I’m currently exploring a tool called Scrivener to hold all my notes along-side the manuscript. I like it, but as with most tools, it has its limitations. I’ve not tried MS Word outliner yet, partly because MS tends to be too helpful, and I end up fighting with it over formatting.

  10. For those looking for a great bible/note-taking program, I use Microsoft OneNote. I actually consider it Microsoft’s single best thing they’ve ever done. It’s awesome for organization into projects/sections/topics/pages, links like a wiki, can paste links & all kinds of media, and if if on a touchscreen, can be used for hand-written notes and drawings. It’s not free, obviously, but it’s been great for me. Just something to consider.

    Also, I was recently directed to this and wanted to share: http://theideabird.tumblr.com/

  11. That was a Great episode. Funny with lots of good information in bite sized chunks.

  12. The description seems to have gotten the first question wrong, I am the 13-year old that asked it, (no, I do not hold it against whoever got it wrong, they had no way of knowing) and it was about the TONE difference, not arc difference.

    1. Congratulations on sticking the landing, Helaman. That question wandered around a LOT before landing, and I’ll be honest, I was five seconds from pulling the mic away and moving on.

      I know how difficult it can be to ask a complicated question like this. The trick lies in finding the essence of the question, and putting that up front. In this case, “Tone changed between books.”

      So: “Do you notice a change in your tone or voice as you write a series? It seemed like your authorial voice changed between the first ARC and the later books in the 13th Reality series.”

      (Note that it took me a good three minutes of writing and tweaking just now to formulate that question well for this blog post. Writing out a complicated question like this one will save you lots of potential embarrassment in front of microphones in the future.)

      You’ve got great questions, Helaman. Keep ’em coming!

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