Writing Excuses 9.22: Microcasting

Microcasting! It’s a Q&A, with each question serving as its own little micro-podcast. This week’s questions:

  • Should you include your prologue as one of the three chapters you send in a submission packet?
  • How do you get out of the spot where your protagonist has no motivation?
  • What’s the best way to prove to a spouse that your writing is more than a hobby?
  • How do you get back into a project after taking a break from it?
  • Where do you start research for historical fiction?
  • Let’s say you sold your first book. How do you tackle book 2 in a series?
  • How do you go about writing an overarching setting, like Brandon’s “Cosmere?”
  • What part about being a writer do you most enjoy, besides the actual writing?

Those are the questions. You’ll have to listen for the answers. Fortunately they’re not hidden or anything. We just come right out and say them.

Play

Look around, identify an everyday object, and then create a post-apocalyptic setting in which that object is currency.

The Fall of the Kings, by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, narrated by Ellen Kushner, Nick Sullivan, Neil Gaiman, Simon Jones, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Richard Ferrone, and Tim Jerome

Writing Excuses 9.21: Sanderson’s 3rd Law

Brandon has some rules about magic systems — rules he uses as guideposts for his own writing. In his own words, “I name them Sanderson’s Laws partially out of hubris…”

Sanderson’s third law states, in effect, that a thorough exploration of a single magical ability is better than the creation of lots of different abilities–going for depth rather than breadth. And to immediately break that rule, we explore the wider application of this rule in other arenas.

We talk about how we apply this principle–depth rather than breadth–in many aspects of our own work, and then we drill back down (*ahem*) on its application in the creation of magic systems.

 

 

Play

A magic system in which digging holes somehowe generates magic, and the depth, breadth, and location determine what kind.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, narrated by Simon Prebble

Writing Excuses 9.20: Creator vs Creation

This topic breaks down into two parts:

First: sometimes you create something, and when you hand to your fans, it becomes their thing. How do we as creators deal with this when it happens, and how do we prepare ourselves, and our works, for this eventuality? And how does this impact our desire to foster a sense of community with our fans?

We talk about our experiences with this, which have been surprising, eye-opening, confusing, and a whole bunch of other things, including exceedingly rewarding.

Second: what’s the difference between liking something someone has created, and liking that person as a creator? Is it possible to not like a creator, while still enjoying the things they’ve made? Where do we draw the lines?

(Aside: when Mary called “can of worms” on “how to express an opinion,” she didn’t know that our recording of that can of worms would air before the recording of us opening of the can. It’s Episode 9.14, right here!)

Play

One of your creations has gained a life of its own, and it’s something beyond the merely metaphorical “life of its own” that we talked about in this podcast. How did that happen? What happens next?

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

The “Out of Excuses” Seminar and Retreat Scholarship Recipient is…

The applications have been reviewed, re-reviewed, sorted, parsed, and very meticulously evaluated, and the time has come to announce the recipient of the 2014 scholarship for the Out of Excuses seminar and retreat.

Congratulations, Julie Rodriguez!

Julie has been notified by email and has accepted. We’re all looking forward to having her join us at this September’s event.

Thank you, applicants, for your interest. We’re honored (and perhaps a wee bit intimidated) to have so many high-quality writing samples to review. Speaking of which, we’re very grateful to the scholarship selection panel at the Carl Brandon society (Wesley Chu, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, John Lawson, and K. Tempest Bradford) for their help with the review and administration of the scholarship.

And thank you, all of you who have expressed interest in the Out of Excuses event itself. We recognize that the demand is currently far in excess of what the retreat facility can accommodate. We don’t have anything to announce on that front, be we are up to our elbows in the investigation of possible alternatives.

Venue options notwithstanding, we’ll definitely be holding seminars and retreats in the future.

Writing Excuses 9.19: Showing Emotion

How do you go about writing a character showing their emotions without them sounding whiny (or whatever the “too-much” version of the appropriate emotion might be)?

Adding to the difficulty of the exercise, how do you know where that “too much” line is for your book, your genre, and your audience?

We talk about how we’ve each faced this challenge, and how that’s been very different for each of us. Sometimes it comes down to “show, don’t tell,” and sometimes that rule flat out doesn’t work. And sometimes it doesn’t come down to a simple rule at all. (Okay, most of the time that’s what it comes down to.)

 

Play

Write a letter to Jane or Vincent, and write that letter as if you were a person living in the setting of Mary’s Glamourist Histories.

Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal, and narrated by Mary, too!

A Midweek Writing Exercise: “Statement of Problem”

Howard here. Let me cut straight to the exercise:

Describe the problems you currently have with the Writing Excuses website, but do so without describing solutions to those problems. 

and then…

Describe things that work the best for you, or things that you enjoy the most at the Writing Excuses site, but do so without simply naming the feature.

We’re giving writingexcuses.com a redesign, an overhaul, and we need use-cases. From you!

In the world of web design (and in the larger world of software design, and the even larger world of product design) the engineering team will do the wrong thing when presented with a long list of instructions from end-users. What they need is a concise list of instructions from an architect, who has looked at the various use-cases in their correct contexts.

Here is one way you might respond to this exercise without having paid attention to the instructions:

“Use a bigger font, and make the buttons bigger, too.”

Okay, but will a bigger font actually solve the problem? Let’s reword this and see.

“I can’t read the site when I’m using my phone, and when I try to click on links or buttons I usually miss.”

Oh-ho! Now we know that what this user actually needs is a version of the site that comes up for mobile devices, and which is optimized for use there. (Note: yes, we know this! And we also hate when mobile sites don’t provide the full feature set. Both of these things are already in our requirements list. And we also know that even for laptop/tablet/PC/Mac users, the existing font is often too small.)

More examples:

I like the tag cloud.

Well, okay. Producer Jordo hates tag clouds, and I don’t like tagging things when I write episodes up, but we’ll go ahead and leave that alone, I guess.

I find episodes using the tag cloud, and sometimes I find super-helpful episodes that I didn’t expect would help.

Wait, you mean it works? Well, that changes things. I’m encouraged to keep tagging episodes as I create them, even though (confession time!) I don’t use the tag cloud myself, and I worry that it might not be useful. And hey, for some of you it might not be! That’s why this writing exercise is so important. One person’s solution or favorite feature may be another person’s problem, and unless we describe the problems and the functional use-cases, we won’t catch that.

Let’s do this one more time…

Don’t make the site all bloated and graphics-heavy! I hate sites that do that.

There’s no value assigned to “bloated” or “graphics-heavy.” Why do you hate sites like that? Are you offended by color? Is it a mobile phone issue? This totally ties our hands, because adding ANYTHING might be problematic here.

I like how quickly the site loads. Episodes take a while to stream, but the UI comes up fast.

This statement identifies load-time as the thing we need to not break. Taken in context of other problems and other successful use-cases, we can see exactly what we need to do.

This writing exercise is especially tricky the more you know about web site design and software design, because you probably already know the solution we’ll end up using. You want to save time and just jump ahead. If you’re passionate about the solution you’re offering, that’s yet another difficulty level. They stack! That means this is a great writing exercise for the engineers among you! It’s like “show, don’t tell,” only with more descriptions of eye-strain and less pre-formatted XML.

Producer Jordo and I interact with the site differently than you do, and Izzy and Tiffany (our development team) are even further disconnected. But if you give us the right information, we’ll give you a new, improved writingexcuses.com that will amaze you, and part of that amazement will be that we gave you good stuff without taking any of the old stuff away.

Unlike our writing prompts, this exercise goes into the comments. And we’ll actually read it! (No critiques, though.)

For your handy-dandy, below-the-fold reference, here is the exercise again:

Describe the problems you currently have with the existing Writing Excuses website, but do so without describing solutions to those problems. 

Describe things that work the best for you, or things that you enjoy the most at the Writing Excuses site, but do so without simply naming the feature.