Writing Excuses 8.10: Brainstorming With Howard Again

In this episode Brandon, Mary, and Dan help Howard brainstorm a story for a comic!

Howard begins with an uplift-related setting, and a couple of characters, and then the group takes off on a delightful demonstration of brainstorming within very specific constraints. The constraints in this case: existing setting and canon, existing characters, and (Howard’s favorite constraint) a limited page-count.

Disappointment of Epic Levels: Howard struggled so much with this story, even after the brainstorming session, that he decided to abandon the Bonus Story option for this book, and instead write a dozen new footnotes for the existing strips. This is no reflection upon the story itself. Brandon, Dan, and Mary did a great job. This story may see life someplace else, but not between the covers of “The Body Politic.”


An uplifted creature wants to get his/her entire species downlifted.

Fragments, by Dan Wells, narrated by Julia Whelan

19 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.10: Brainstorming With Howard Again”

  1. Hi, everyone. I just found out about this podcast a couple of weeks ago and managed to catch up. (I’m indicating you to all my writer friends.) I was wondering if you could do an episode on fanfiction writing.
    Well, keep your awesomeness up.


  2. You should go all Lawnmower Man with uplifted sloths. The Lawnmower Man Part III – Revenge of the Sloth.

  3. Come now Brandon. I happen to remember a certain Kandra that made sentient, magic ponies / horses cannon in the Mistborn universe. Not to mention a species of abnormally intelligence horses in TWoKs.

    Aside from that when we started discussing ponies and dogs, for some reason Dog food popped into my mind and the whole horse meat debate. Perhaps the dogs want to uplift the horses and ponies because they can taste the horse and hate it and instead want beef. Or the other way around. Too Silly? :)

  4. Evil ponies are awesome – I look forward to reading this. I like the idea of engineered pets who turn out to be intelligent with evil plans (BTW, I know Howard hates to draw elephants, but he sure does a terrific job with them when he does.)

    As a parrot fan (African Greys are every bit as smart as you’ve heard), I’m sure any uplifted parrots (assisted by any uplifted ravens and crows) would lobby very strongly to keep cats from being uplifted (of course, if cats were uplifted, would anyone be able to tell?)

    Would anything be only moderately uplifted? I can see an advantage to, say, uplifted chickens made smart enough to put the eggs into a basket and organize self-defense against predators – smart enough to be more useful (and to keep them from being killed), but not smart enough to be considered anywhere near equal to humans.

  5. @ Laurie:

    Ooooo, and one of the chickens turns out to be super smart, and names himself Caesar, and then someone beheads Caesar and makes a salad out of him. It’s like “Fried Green Tomatoes” meets “Planet of the Apes,” but with CHICKENS. “The secret’s in the salad….”

    I’ll stop now.

  6. @Jhonnies:

    They’ve done at least one cast on “writing in other people’s universes,” which is basically referring to professional fanfiction. (Star Wars/Trek books, video game novels, Magic the Gathering books, the new Dune books, etc.) There are some differences in how its released (published vs e-published, professionally edited vs home-edited, fanfiction is often released serially (Meaning you probably want to plan things out first), but functionally, officially sponsored and published novels that go along with pre-existing universes are just fanfiction that’s been through the standard pre-release polishing phase and is checked (to some degree or another) with the IP holder for how much one messes with canon. Thus, the special considerations, aside from the legal issues that fanfic writers waive with a disclaimer, are pretty much the same. Here is what I could find:

    The primary episode on the topic: https://writingexcuses.com/2011/02/20/writing-excuses-5-25-writing-in-other-peoples-universes/
    Tie-in fiction: https://writingexcuses.com/2012/10/21/writing-excuses-7-43-tie-in-fantasy-fiction-with-james-l-sutter/
    Writing for comics: https://writingexcuses.com/2012/10/28/writing-excuses-7-44-writing-for-comics-with-jim-zub/
    -Does a fair bit of other stuff like how to adapt writing to give artists freedom, etc, but comic writers are still primarily working in someone else’s universe
    Patching plot holes (and much more): https://writingexcuses.com/2011/07/31/writing-excuses-6-9-microcasting-2-electric-boogaloo/
    -Serials are a royal pain for plot holes, because you generally can’t go back to the thing that causes the problem and remove it. I think Howard had some tips on this, since his format is a serial webcomic.

    And, since I saw them, a couple of podcasts that should probably be obligatory topics for fanfiction writers. There’s a rather sinister stereotype that goes with the term fanfiction regarding self-insertion and poorly implemented melodrama. Thus:
    (I am not claiming these are problems you have specifically, but they are certainly prevalent in fanfic communities. I’d provide other useful links as well, but that list would quickly grow to absurd and daunting levels, since I’ve found every cast actually on writing useful (I have no intention of writing as a career – to me it’s just a hobby I pick up from time to time – so the business casts aren’t very useful to me. And the joke casts were never really intended to provide anything other than comic relief).)

  7. You know, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has actually got an episode titled A Dog and Pony Show.

    Just throwing that out there.

  8. I love the idea of a science fiction version of My Little Ponies, and am quite sad to hear that Howard wont be including it in the book. But hopefully this just means that the stories were too good for such a short space, and that we’ll see them in a longer form.

    I also particularly liked the idea of an uplifted animal seeking to downlift its species. After all, it’s rather self-centered for sentient creatures to assume that every other creature wants to be sentient as well. It reminds of how Europe used to imagine that it was going around the world and “uplifting” the cultures they found. Indeed, downlifting might not be the goal of such a villain, but rather they might seek to prevent the uplifting of other species, seeing such a thing as a crime against life.

  9. Building on what JD Tolson said, it may be that an uplifted canine resents being uplifted. He still remembers the happy, carefree days as a pet–which, though some may think demeaning, was a happy time when the uplifted canine was blissfully unaware of the problems of the world other than food, sleep, bones, and whether his human was going to let him cuddle with him on the couch. This uplifted canine wants to return his species to its natural order so as to recapture the idyllic, if blissfully oblivious, consciousness. Life was happier that way–and in the end, isn’t that what life comes down to: are you happy?
    Naturally, the uplifted canine assumes that all uplifted canines feel the same way, and would ultimately be better off.

  10. Brainstorming, dogs and ponies, I’m surprised no one mentioned the horse of a different color!

    So this is what you find if you look behind the curtain?

    A transcript! Yes, yet another podcast turned into text for your amusement.


    I hope you enjoy it, and my apologies for the approximated sections. When people don’t use microphones, it’s really hard to figure out what they said.

  11. Going of with what Cunningham said, I think the idea of some villain wanting to down lift everyone is good. I personally think one of the most frightening villains are the ones who is so obsessed over one idea, especially a past idea, (his/her happy puppy-days). So obsessed in fact, that he/she will try and get what they want at all expense, no matter what they are doing to themselves or others.

  12. Uplifted goats.
    “And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those kids!”

  13. I’m sad to hear that Howard won’t be using the “Dog and Pony Show” story idea (at least right away). I hope to see it eventually. ;o) I have just one contribution: If you have an evil horse mastermind, you can always have him say modestly, “Well, it’s just horse sense.” And of course when the villain gets routed and you show him with a dismayed expression, someone can say, “Oh, why the long face?”

  14. This podcast is now 20% cooler! Not that it wasn’t cool already, but Writing Excuses plus My Little Pony? Heck, yeah! Even if it isn’t MLP fanfiction, I still might have to hunt this story down, just because of this episode.

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