Writing Excuses 7.21: Project In Depth — Force Multiplication

We’re doing something new, and Howard gets to go first.

The plan is to take something one of us has completed, and which you’ve had ample time to read, and grill the creator about the project. Obviously there will be spoilers. Also, we’re going to run a bit long on these.

First up in our “Project In Depth” series: Howard’s most recent online volume of Schlock Mercenary, Force Multiplication. You can read it for free at the link above. It’s been nominated in the Best Graphic Story category for this year’s Hugo Awards, this entire episode features Howard on the spot answering questions about the project from Brandon, Dan, and Mary.

The biggest issue discussed is the female perspective. In Force Multiplication Howard challenged himself by casting all of the leads for the story as women, and it changed the storytelling process for him significantly.

He also talks about the setting — Haven Hive — and how he needed the setting to functionally isolate a small ensemble cast. He talks about naming a little, and finally talks about how he turned a sterile-sounding high-concept plot into an interesting story.

Next up on our Project In Depth series: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. You have been warned. We’ll also be doing Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamour in Glass and Dan Wells’ Hollow City. We’re NOT doing this back-to-back. You’ve got a little time.

Thing That Would Make Howard Sound Smarter: Remove every last “you know” from his dialog. (Note that this would not actually increase Howard’s IQ.)


Do this with your own work—have your friends interview you in depth about something you’ve finished, or something you’re currently working on.

Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

14 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.21: Project In Depth — Force Multiplication”

  1. Howard! Did you have to stop and take a breath after “…as the beginning of what is probably the last box set (long pause)”? I’m so glad that the next word was “before…”

  2. Nice episode , fellas.

    Can’t wait for The Way of Kings, next week. I wonder how long that is going to be?

  3. This is a great idea – I love hearing how the original concepts get turned into a story, and yes, the original concept is on the dry side, and that wasn’t the wonderful story I saw, with all these great characters and action scenes, but I can see it as the seed of it all. It’s been one of my favorite Schlock stories so far, with one of my favorite lines (“How can anyone not need a gunship?”)

    Legs is one of my favorite characters in Schlock, too, btw. And Major Murtagh was awesome – the best kind of military-style officer. I’ve met people like her. I’m very glad she’s going to show up again, I was hoping she would.

    Great book of the week choice – I agree, Going Postal is Pratchett’s best book so far, certainly the most amazing plot and a powerful ending that you don’t see coming – since he makes us certain that it’s going to go one way, and only at the end do we turn in a completely different, and much better, direction. I love the sequel, too, not quite as good, but worth it for Mr. Fusspot and his wonderful toy. And Stephen Briggs is one of the best readers ever.

  4. Well, I’m two and a half down, so all I need to do now is finish Glamour in Glass and get my hands on Hollow City, which will be my first major foray into Horror as that is not a genre I usually delve.

    Greatly enjoyed the podcast. :) It’s encouraging and otherwise awesome to hear about the bits and pieces that make up a story and then see how they all come together. Also nice to know that we have permission to change things up as we go if it doesn’t seem to be working out. ;)

  5. Going Postal is wonderful, but my favorite is still Night Watch. Of course, part of that was that I read all of the books that feed directly or subtly into that story. Which reminds me: May 25 is the wearing of the lilac.

  6. don’t you just love the feeling when your all time favorite author gets acknowledged? Please, more Pratchett love!!!

  7. Great episode.

    Look forward to the breakdown of the other books starting with WoK.

    It would be interesting to hear Brandon break down his process on the WoT books as well.
    I guess that was a very different process from his normal writing.

  8. Let me just throw in some love for Howard here. I’ve been following a number of webcomics for several years now and thought they were pretty good. But now that I’ve become aware of Schlock Mercenary and have begun reading my way through them the difference is night and day. The storylines in SM are focused, there is regular motion, and the characters, though comic, have weight and depth to them.

    Compared to one comic that updates three times a week (except when it doesn’t) and has been stuck with the doomsday clock at 11:55 pm for perhaps even a year now. None of the characters are acting as if we’re all about to die, and they regularly overpower the story (which is why I think it’s stalled so long at one spot). I’m not sure why I keep reading it, other than force of habit.

    So thank you, Howard, for the professionalism you bring to your comic, for caring enough to make the story and characters interesting, and for keeping it moving. You are not a cartoonist, you are a storyteller who works within the webcomic structure, and that distinction is huge.

    Kudos to you (and your family), also, for having the guts to go after what you love and make it work. I know how much pressure the “family” part can put on a person to stick to the “safe” route through life, and I can’t imagine what you have gone through and continue to go through is by any means easy. Bravo for doing it anyway, and finding a way.

  9. Great episode. I’d loved it if these were two-parters, so we could get even more in depth into the process.

    Blast…now I have to go read Way of Kings. Thanks, Brandon for destroying my resolve not to begin anymore B.A.F.S. (big ass fantasy series) until they’re at least halfway done. *mumblemumble.*

  10. Helpful, practical episode. Thanks for being so honest about the process.
    BTW: Did Howard say “glossolalia”? I have NEVER heard that word outside of church.
    PS “Going Postal” is indeed wonderful.

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