Writing Excuses 8.45: Gencon Q&A With Wesley Chu

Wesley Chu again joins Brandon, Mary, Howard, and a live audience at GenCon Indy, this time for a Q&A. The audience handed us the following questions:

  • How do you write 1st-person POV from a gender other than your own?
  • Do you have a set schedule for writing time?
  • How do you boost your word count without padding, AND without adding characters?
  • How can prose be used to convey emotion without stating character feelings outright?

Those are the questions. Listen to the episode for the answers!


Revoke your right to use “thought” verbs, then communicate thoughts, knowledge, and awareness in your POV character. The original challenge for this prompt came from this blog post by Chuck Palahniuk.

Chimes at Midnight, by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

12 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.45: Gencon Q&A With Wesley Chu”

  1. Excellent episode. Some great tips on quality deep-POV prose. And I am definitely going to try that writing prompt out during revisions of my novel. I am NOT going to make it hard to write while I’m racing through the NaNoWriMo challenge. I don’t have that much spare time.

  2. So this writing prompt….did Howard miss the comment that it’s for first person POV? In third person, as long as your character has a human face it’s pretty easy to communicate thought awareness through facial expressions. (That said, you have to be careful not to go too far, lest you convert your character into the magician Teller.)

    Regarding the non-padded scene expansion…on a larger scale, it could be that the core concept is only half the idea of the book. Brandon has mentioned more than once on this ‘cast that Mistborn is a meld of his trunk novel on “what happens if the destined hero loses the great battle” and something else…I think it was Allomancy. Individually, he claims, both books were, to be polite, lacking. But they combined together to create an excellent trilogy.

    And regarding the gender issue, I think you guys are going a bit too far into the “all the same” camp. There are some fundamental neurological differences that have a direct effect on how men and women think. (I’ve never seen anything describing how this relates to less common genders.) Women tend to think in parallel, which tends to produce higher capacity in multitasking than men, and they also tend to be more emotional (NOT hysterics, but much more capable of picking up on non-vocalized messages). Men tend to be singular (everything is a problem to be fixed, everything is separate and can be filed in separate boxes), which produces people who tend to be good at solving problems, but might miss how their solution fits into the whole, and we tend to be better at distancing ourselves from things (to the point of being totally oblivious of a lot of emotional subtext).

    I think the best example of this I can think of is Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga and, the Empire trilogy he and Janny Wurts produced together. In Riftwar, the Tsurani empire is seen from a male perspective – “these are the problems, this is how we fix it” and a lot of the social inequity issues are completely glossed over despite the principle viewpoint character having gone from being a slave to being a mage of sufficient status to be above the law (except, possibly, a direct command from the Emperor – it’s been a while since I’ve read those books). In the Empire trilogy, told from the viewpoint of a Ruling Lady of a noble house in a feudal empire reminiscent of pre-Edo Japan, it’s far different. There’s a huge amount of breadth and depth to everything, she has far more going on at once, and she cares far more about the regular people. When Milamber (Riftwar) considers the poor issue, it’s clinical, despite his modest and personal background; when Mara (Empire trilogy) considers it, it’s quite intense – you vicariously feel the pain of being impoverished in an empire that doesn’t give a damn, despite her noble upbringing in a society in which this is perfectly acceptable. The exact opposite of what you might expect; Marie Antoinnette’s comment about cake was particularly bad, but you don’t expect noblewomen to care about the commoners, especially those not serving her, and you don’t expect the foreign-born slave to not care after he’s risen to power (And Milamber is a rather nice guy, too, especially at that point in the story).

    There are, of course, exceptions. Howard’s SWAT captain with magical weapons, for instance, is, given her choice of profession, probably one such exception. (The term tomboy comes to mind, as a descriptor rather than an insult, despite the connotations.) I’m probably an exception myself – I want to know how the whole thing fits together, I find the simplification of causality extremely annoying (especially when it comes to news reporters – politics are not that simple). I still have the male difficulties with understanding emotional subtext, and I still want to try to fix it whenever someone complains about something (or at least offer advice).

    Please don’t interpret this as sexism, it’s practical neurology (which is to say, saying what neurologists say about gender differences in the brain) and extrapolations on how to apply that to writing (my thoughts and attempting to sound smarter than I am).

  3. @Rashkavar – I think the point is not there are no differences between men and women as characters. It’s rather that there is no black-white distinction like all men are always this, all women are always that.

    To use a simple, or rather, simplistic, example:

    The statement “men are taller than women” is totally true, if you mean avarage size between men and women from a specific, otherwise homogenous – regarding race, age group, health, upbringing – group.

    That’s a double qualification.

    First, there is a large overlap between the respective sizes. The tallest man will be taller than any woman, and the shortes woman will be taller than any men, but a short man will be shorter than many women, and a tall woman will be taller than many man. A random pairing will show a majority of man-taller-than-woman pairs, but a still significant, say 30%, minority of juxtaposed pairs.

    Second, since Swedes are on average taller than Italians, an Swedish woman will be at least as tall as an average Italian man.

    Furthermore, in a society where woman are treated markedly different than man, and e.g. get worse nutrition and less healthcare, the size difference may be disproportionate.

    @all – Please note that I do not intent any offense to any gender or nationality.

    My experience is that other gender-specific differences, like mental, emotional, motivational and (supposedly innate ) skillset differences, follow similar Stereotype Statistics: Women are definitely better at multitasking than men, on average, but those men that are very good at it are still better than those women who aren’t.

    Also, the slide is not on manly vs. womanly in total, but rather on specific issues. Most persons I know confirm to their respective gender stereotypes in many or even most instances, but the few areas where they don’t is what makes them most interesting.

    The average man and the average woman do not exist (e.g. no woman actually has 1.7 children).

  4. A suggestion for figuring out what clues you can use for implied emotions: Look at the clues you use to know the emotional states of the people around you. If you can identify the clues you use, you can incorporate them into your story. Even better, you can use the clues to distinguish between characters by contrasting how they react to different emotions.

    @Rashkavar – if you go back to some of their earlier podcasts (I think “How to Write Men” particularly), they do discuss the general differences between men and women.

  5. Great ep, with lots of food for thought.

    I’ve organised writing retreats in the past – an all day write-in, with lunch and most importantly cake. However, striving to get minimum numbers to cover costs makes them time-consuming and stressful. So thanks to Howard for the Google Hangout writing retreat idea!

    I’ll try that with my writing group. Perfect for mid-week, when we can’t do a pop-up retreat at a cafe.

    Also, interested in the writing prompt. It’s something I’ve been thinking about, as I’m writing third person present tense and 1st person, past in the other world. I want to add more texture, so this could be really useful.


  6. It’s very good advice about finding time for writing. I heard somewhere else, a writer describe himself as a snatcher of time, finding little 5 minute segments to write throughout the day. They really add up, and it is of course better than having written nothing.

    Thanks for another great ep!

  7. From Wikipedia’s human multitasking article:
    “Although the idea that women are better multitaskers than men has been popular in the media as well in conventional thought, there is very little data available to support claims of a real gender difference.”

    Although if enough people believe it, putting in in a PoV isn’t going to seem jarring. I guess it goes back to what Brandon said about unsheathing a sword.

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